3-Panel Scolds Hughes for One Liner Judgment by Publishing Opinion for Instructive Precedent Training
Published; April 3, 2020
In a one-sentence judgment, the district court agreed and dismissed the case with prejudice. In so holding, however, the district court failed to follow controlling Supreme Court authority permitting the enforcement action. We publish this opinion to clarify the reach of our previous precedent, and REVERSE and REMAND for further proceedings.
HOUSTON – Vantage, a Houston-based group of interrelated energy, drilling and management companies, violated federal law by firing an employee because he had heart attack on board one of Vantage’s drilling rigs, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed on January 26, 2018.
The EEOC’s lawsuit charges that Vantage employee David Poston was terminated after he suffered a heart attack while working on the “Titanium Explorer,” one of Vantage’s drilling rigs. The heart attack resulted in an impairment to Poston’s cardiovascular system which necessitated that he take short-term disability leave. Poston was targeted for termination while he was on leave, the EEOC said, and then discharged immediately upon being released to return to work.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 4:18-cv-00254) against Vantage Drilling Company, Vantage Energy Services, Inc., Vantage Drilling International, f/k/a Offshore Group Investment Ltd., and Vantage International Management Company Pte. Ltd. in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks an injunction prohibiting such actions in the future, as well as back pay with pre-judgment interest, compensatory damages and punitive damages, in amounts to be determined at trial.
“Targeting an employee for an adverse action because he has been forced to take disability leave due to a debilitating medical condition violates the ADA,” said Rayford O. Irvin, district director of the EEOC’s Houston District Office. “This sort of illegal treatment deprives such people of the equal opportunities in the workplace that every American should enjoy.”
Rudy Sustaita, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Houston, explained, “An employee who has suffered a heart attack has enough to deal with without having to face unlawful discrimination and unemployment. The EEOC is here to fight for the rights of people like David Poston.”
The EEOC’s senior trial attorney in charge of the case, Connie Gatlin, added, “Vantage’s thoughtless actions in this case violate both the letter and the spirit of the ADA, which is intended to increase job opportunities and protections for people with disabilities.”
According to the company’s website, Vantage Drilling International, a Houston-based company, is an offshore drilling contractor formed in 2007 that operates and manages a fleet of modern, high-specification drilling rigs. It provides personnel from around the globe to support its worldwide drilling operations. The EEOC alleges that the four Vantage entities named in the lawsuit, including Vantage Drilling International, operate as an integrated enterprise and single employer.
The EEOC’s Houston District Office is located on the sixth floor of the Leland Federal Building at 1919 Smith St. in Houston.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.