Network Fired Reporter for Plagiarism, Not PTSD, Court Finds

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

A government-funded broadcasting network had a legitimate reason for firing a reporter who engaged in plagiarism, despite his claim that he was disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder, a federal district court decided.

The decision shows that establishing an employee’s serious disability won’t support a discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act unless the worker shows a causal relationship between the condition and an adverse employment action.

Mohamad Mastou was diagnosed with PTSD after he had traumatic experiences in Syria and witnessed by video a bombing that killed his father and brother. But Judge Claude M. Hilton of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said Nov. 17 that Middle East Broadcasting Networks Inc. accommodated Mastou on several occasions.

Hilton said Mastou’s job performance was unsatisfactory even before his PTSD diagnosis and there was no evidence that would support a reasonable inference of unlawful discrimination ( Mastou v. Middle East Broad. Networks, Inc. , 2017 BL 414776, E.D. Va., No. 1:17-CV-00196, 11/17/17 ).

Employee Didn’t Link Firing to PTSD

Mastou was a reporter for MBN, which reports news to the Middle East, according to the court. He was diagnosed with PTSD in December 2014 but didn’t inform the employer of his condition until March 2015.

Mastou requested and was granted 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. He was also given a later shift assignment after he reported that a 4 a.m. start left him groggy due to his PTSD medications. He also complained that the early morning shift exposed him to more news about the ongoing civil war in Syria, which he found distressing.

MBN fired Mastou after the company discovered he cut and pasted two Arabic-language articles he found online, rather than prepare an original news story as he was assigned, the court said.

Mastou filed a lawsuit alleging that he was fired due to his disability or because he requested accommodations for his PTSD, but Hilton ruled in favor of the broadcasting company.

Hilton said Mastou had a history of poor performance, including more than 50 instances of tardiness that predated his PTSD diagnosis, and he offered no evidence that his discharge for plagiarism was a pretext for discrimination.

Alan Lescht & Associates PC in Washington, who represented Mastou, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.

Crowell & Moring LLP represented MBN. Andrew Bagley, senior counsel for Crowell & Moring LLP, who wasn’t the attorney in this case, told Bloomberg Law that the lawsuit “should never have been brought.” Bagley said the company was gratified that Hilton “saw it that way” and issued a ruling that “reflects the lack of merit of the case.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington, D.C. at ldube@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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