ATLANTA — The layoff of a 64-year-old Jacksonville maritime employee whose job was then held by a much younger co-worker in 2014 didn't violate federal law and was motivated by financial factors, an appeals court recently ruled.
In a 15-page decision handed down Feb. 2, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed a district court decision to grant summary judgment in favor Bill Nanji Vira's former employer who laid him off from his job in the Jacksonville shipyards. Vira failed to provide evidence that his Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) request had been "the proximate cause of his termination," the appeals court decision said.
"The district court did not err, and Mr. Vira's arguments on appeal do not show a genuine issue of material fact," the appeals court decision said.
Vira appealed the summary judgment handed down by the U.S. District Court for Florida's Middle District in his age discrimination claim in favor of defendants, Crowley Liner Services Inc. and Crowley Maritime Corp. Vira had claimed the district court was wrong in agreeing Crowley and Crowley had "sufficient legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason" for laying him off, the appeals court decision said.
The appeals court panel was made up of Judges William H. Pryor Jr., Jill A. Pryor and Raymond C. Clevenger III, the latter of whom is a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Federal Circuit who was sitting on the panel by designation.
The appeals court decision describes Crowley Maritime Corp. as a marine solutions, logistics and transportation company that operates barges out of Jacksonville through its subsidiary Crowley Liner Services.
Vira had been a Crowley employee, mostly as a night shift maintenance supervisor who "generally received positive feedback," for more than 12 years until he was laid off in December 2014, the background portion of the appeals court decision said. In January 2014, Vira had been made day-shift maintenance supervisor of Crowley's refrigerated container units department with responsibilities that included maintaining barge power packs, according to the appeals court decision.
In August 2014, Vira declined to address a double power pack failure on a barge because of his fear of water and Crowley officials transferred power pack responsibilities to another employee, according to the appeals court decision. Later that same month, Vira began experiencing heart problems and went on leave as authorized by the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the appeals court decision.
The following month, Crowley announced a companywide layoff, according to the appeals court decision. "Vira was informed that he was one of approximately one-hundred employees to be laid off," the appeals court decision said. A company director told Vira that his the performance of his replacement in the night shift position had been impressive and allowing that employee to take over Vira's responsibilities would cut costs, according to the appeals court decision.
"There is no evidence the two discussed Mr. Vira’s medical condition," the appeals court decision said.
Vira was 64 and his replacement "was under 40," the appeals court decision said.
Following his layoff, Vira filed suit against Crowley claiming his job loss violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act and had been in retaliation in violation of the FMLA.
Crowley moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the District Court. Vira's appeal covered only the portions of his case that related to age discrimination, FMLA retaliation and FMLA interference claims.
"Here, the district court found that Mr. Vira failed to provide any evidence that his FMLA request was the proximate cause of his termination, and that the record evidence demonstrates his layoff was financially-motivated and unrelated to his use of FMLA leave," the appeals court decision said. "In response, [Vira] offers only the temporal relationship between the FMLA leave and his termination as evidence of causation, but this does not raise a genuine issue of material fact. Therefore, summary judgment was proper."