Law Firms

Secretary Loses Appeal in Disability Suit Against Peabody & Arnold

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A Massachusetts appeals court has affirmed dismissal of a legal secretary’s disability lawsuit against Peabody & Arnold based on evidence turned up by a private detective.

The secretary, Teresa Brooks, claimed she had a disabling spinal condition, but the detective videotaped her “working in her yard, repeatedly bending over, carrying heavy bundles, walking up and down stairs without difficulty, and walking without a limp or a cane,” the Massachusetts Appeals Court wrote Monday in an opinion, posted by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and noted by Legal Blog Watch.

“She was also physically able to drive 40 minutes each way to a casino in Lincoln, R.I., and to sit playing slot machines for three hours, while claiming that her back problems would not permit her to sit at her desk and type,” the opinion said.

A physician who viewed the tape withdrew his earlier opinion that Brooks was disabled, although he did not withdraw his diagnosis of the back problem, spondylolisthesis. Another physician also diagnosed a back condition and said it can permit almost normal function some days and incapacitation on others.

But the court said the law firm was justified in firing the secretary after the videotape turned up evidence she was not disabled. “Nothing required the defendant to engage in exhaustive review of either the plaintiff’s physical condition or the plaintiff’s apparent fraudulent behavior to eliminate the question of pretext,” the court said.

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