How a Fired California Worker Turned Her Employer’s Inadequate Response into a $578K Jury Verdict in a Discrimination Case

pregnancyIn California, there are several bases upon which your employer is not allowed to discriminate. Two areas in which an employee may potentially suffer from illegal discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act are pregnancy discrimination and disability discrimination. Sometimes, as happened to one woman in San Mateo County recently, you may suffer from discrimination on multiple grounds, and your employer’s liability may spring from multiple missteps. When that happens, you need skilled California discrimination counsel on your side to help you make the most of your case.

The woman who was the plaintiff in the San Mateo County case (San Mateo Superior Court case no. CIV538881), Keri, had worked for a Northern California supermarket chain for almost a decade and a half when she became pregnant in 2013. At that time, she served as the bakery/deli manager of her store. While she was pregnant, Keri learned that she had lupus, which complicated her pregnancy. After giving birth, Keri developed post-partum depression. The combination of these conditions meant that Keri took an extended leave of absence from work, both before and after the birth of her child. The employee did, however, remain in regular contact with her store manager and with the company that served as the vendor that managed the supermarket’s Family and Medical Leave Act cases.

Eventually, with the leave still ongoing, the supermarket sent Keri a letter. The letter claimed that she had not provided the proper documentation to support the medical need for her continued absence from work. The letter demanded that she provide a response within 72 hours or face termination. The letter, however, never made it to Keri and was returned as undeliverable. The employer subsequently terminated Keri, claiming as grounds “job abandonment.”

Keri sued the employer for disability discrimination and pregnancy discrimination in violation of the FEHA, and her proof regarding the supermarket’s handling of the case led her to achieve a substantial damages award. The employee had proof that she was in communication with her store manager, that her store manager had her telephone number, and that the manager had passed along that number to the employer’s Human Resources staff. Additionally, Keri had evidence that the store manager had informed Human Resources that Keri was attempting to provide the needed documentation but was having trouble getting the required forms transmitted to the vendor.

There were two major problems on the employer’s end that helped trigger Keri’s success. For one, the FEHA requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities. Keri had evidence that the bakery/deli manager job remained open for months, even after she was ready to return to work, but the employer refused to return her to that position. This evidence supported Keri’s contention that the employer did not meet its legal obligation to reasonably accommodate her disabilities. Additionally, California law requires an employer to engage in an interactive process with employees with disabilities. Keri sought a continuation of her leave, but the employer simply sent her a letter that it knew never got to her. Even after the letter was returned, the employer made no effort to contact her by telephone, even though it had received her updated telephone contact information. This, Keri persuaded the jury, did not satisfy the law’s requirement that the employer engage in a good-faith interactive process regarding the manager’s disabilities and accommodations for them.

Once you, as an employee, establish that your employer violated the FEHA, you may be entitled to many different types of damages. The jury concluded that Keri had suffered $153,000 in economic damages and had also incurred an additional $425,000 in emotional distress, leading to a total award of $578,000.

If you’ve been a victim of discrimination at work, you should act promptly and retain experienced employment attorneys to help you pursue your case. The Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have been helping mistreated workers for many years. To learn more about how this office can help you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Appeals Court Upholds FEHA Liability Judgment in Favor of LAPD Academy Recruits, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Feb. 28, 2017

California Employee Allowed to Continue Disability Discrimination Case Despite Failure to Obtain Doctor’s Note About Limitations, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Sept. 30, 2016

Photo Credit: GDJ, [CC0 License], via Pixabay