A federal appeals court has revived a former employee’s age and national-origin discrimination claim that Ford Motor Co. fired him because he was trapped behind a closed border in Gaza and couldn’t return from a leave of absence on time.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit vacated Eastern District of Michigan Judge Sean Cox’s September 2011 grant of summary judgment to Ford in Louzon v. Ford Motor Co. and remanded the case.

Louzon, a product engineer, took an approved three-week leave of absence in June 2007 to visit family in Gaza. Israel closed Gaza’s borders while he was there, preventing him from returning by the end of his leave or an extension that Ford gave him. He learned that he had been fired when he returned to work on August 31, 2007.

Louzon sued in Michigan state court in March 2009 and the case was transferred to federal court in December 2010.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote the Sixth Circuit opinion, joined by Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch and Eastern District of Kentucky Judge Joseph Hood, sitting by designation.

Moore criticized Cox for refusing to let Louzon offer evidence regarding seven employees whom he had offered as comparison examples. Cox, citing case law,had ruled their circumstances weren’t comparable because they reported to different supervisors. Moore said the case law wasn’t that clear, and didn’t apply here.

"If we were to accept Ford’s suggestion that the same supervisor is required in this case, the pool of potential comparators for Louzon would amount to no more than a few individuals," she wrote. "Such a requirement would render any plaintiff’s burden virtually impossible, even at the prima facie stage."

Moore also complained that Coxmade a factual finding on a matter subject to dispute–Ford’s process for firing employees. "Even assuming there were an automatic termination policy, the import of such a policy remains disputed," she wrote. "Ford argues that because the determination is automatic, the supervisor who approves the length of the leave makes the termination decision."

A question of fact also remained over whom Louzon reported to, Moore added.

Louzon’s lawyer Lawrence Breskin of Detroit did not respond to a request for comment. Ford spokesman Jay Cooney said the company would have "no comment on the court’s decision."William Forrest III of Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton in Birmingham, Mich., argued for Ford.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.