by David Darr

Today, in Baldwin v. Duke Energy Corporation, the Fourth Circuit considered Ernie Baldwin’s appeal of the Western District of North Carolina’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Duke Energy. In a per curiam opinion, the court affirmed the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment because the court found no reversible error.

This case initially arose when Baldwin sued Duke Energy for employment discrimination resulting in Baldwin’s termination. The facts show that Baldwin had a history of poor performance evaluations and insubordination. Baldwin also filed a complaint about a poor performance review during this time and was able to get the performance review amended. Baldwin then went on FMLA leave while he recovered from a medical condition that temporarily left him unable to sit for more than thirty minutes at a time. After Baldwin’s FMLA leave expired he requested to work from home due to his continued inability to sit for more than thirty minutes. Duke Energy allowed this extension and requested special furniture to help accommodate Baldwin when he returned. When Duke Energy demanded Baldwin return to work, Baldwin refused, citing advice that his attorney gave him (there is no evidence that his attorney actually gave him this advice). After Baldwin’s refusal to return, Duke Energy fired him. Baldwin then filed employment discrimination claims stating that he was fired for his religion, disability, and as retaliation for his complaints and FLMA leave.

In the district court’s opinion, the Western District of North Carolina ruled that there was no evidence that Baldwin was discriminated against for being Jewish because there was no evidence that Duke Energy even knew that he was Jewish. The district court also ruled that Baldwin was not discriminated against for having a disability because his disability was only temporary and thus did not meet the court’s definition of a disability. The district court also decided that Duke Energy did not fire Baldwin in retaliation for previous work complaints and taking a FMLA leave of absence. The district court ruled that there was no evidence that showed that either of these circumstances was the “but-for” cause of Baldwin’s termination. There was also ample evidence that Duke Energy’s decision to terminate Baldwin was for performance reasons.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed with the district court that there was not enough evidence to infer that Duke Energy knew Baldwin’s religion because in a summary judgment all inferences must be made in favor of the nonmoving party. However, it found this error was not harmful enough to overturn the district court’s opinion. The Fourth Circuit adopted the reasoning the district used and affirmed the district court’s decision.