By Edgar M. Rivera
In Kassa v. Synovus Bank, a federal district court in Georgia granted summary judgment in favor of Synovus Bank (the “Bank”), concluding that a mentally ill employee’s sexist comment was not related to his disability and, therefore, the Bank’s decision to terminate him for the comment was not discriminatory. The court found that Eleventh Circuit law did not support the employee’s argument that the comment directly related to his conditions, including intermittent explosive and impulse control disorders, and should not have resulted in termination. This case is important because it is one of the few cases dealing with the intersection between different protected classes, specifically, disability and sex. This case also deals with an open issue in many circuits: whether misconduct resulting from a disability is considered to be part of the disability, rather than a separate basis for termination.
Since 2013, Tony Kassa has been under care for intermittent explosive disorder, paranoid personality disorder, and alcohol abuse. Over the years, Mr. Kassa received treatment for depression, anxiety, intermittent explosive disorder, bipolar disorder, alcohol addiction, paranoid personality disorder, and impulse control disorder. In 2015, Mr. Kassa began working for the Bank as a Network Support Analyst. In 2016, Mr. Kassa was moved to the ATM team day-shift, which involved answering customer service calls. In Mr. Kassa’s first performance review, Mr. Kassa earned an “Exceeds Expectations” review in technical resource but “Below Expectations” review in team performance. On July 20, 2017, Mr. Kassa answered a call from a female Bank teller regarding a customer’s problem with the ATM at her branch. After a problem with one of his coworkers during the call, Mr. Kassa told the teller, “Nothing personal, I hate working with women.” She responded “oh, that’s, that’s . . .” and then stopped talking. Mr. Kassa then added, “Nothing personal, you might be totally different, I don’t know.” The teller’s manager contacted Mr. Kassa’s supervisor to complain about the call between Mr. Kassa and the teller. The Bank investigated by listening to a recording of the conversation and decided to terminate Mr. Kassa. Among other things, Mr. Kassa claimed that he is disabled and that the Bank discriminated against him by terminating him because of his disorders.