A California Paint Store Employee Fired Due to Her Disability Recovers a $974K Judgment

In California, there are several ways that an employer can fire an employee that is against the law. One of those ways is if the employer terminates the employee based on the employee’s disability without first engaging in a good faith effort to make a reasonable accommodation for that worker’s disability.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act demands that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. The law requires many employers, in crafting the employee’s accommodation, to engage that employee in an “interactive process” in a good faith way. If you were fired because of your disability, and you were not afforded a reasonable accommodation or a good-faith interactive process, then you may be entitled to compensation and you should consult a knowledgeable Oakland employment law attorney promptly.

The case of paint store employee E.C. (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC620114 / JAMS Arbitration Case No. 1210033499) is a good example. E.C.’s position required workers to lift heavy loads up to 72 pounds. The worker’s job application stated that she had a disability and could lift no more than 20 pounds.

E.C. worked for five months, relying upon co-workers’ assistance whenever lifting a heavy load was required. After those five months, the employer reportedly told E.C. that she had been working under “modified duty” but that she had exhausted the employer’s 90-day policy for modified duty. The employer demanded that she get medical clearance to lift up to 65 pounds or go on medical leave. E.C. went on leave and remained on leave for four months. After that, with E.C. still medically unable to life more than 20 pounds, the employer fired her.

The employee sued for disability discrimination and wrongful termination, and she won. The arbitrator in E.C.’s case awarded the fired employee $974,000, which included emotional distress damages, attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees and court costs.

The main ingredient for the employee’s success was the way the employer crafted its company policies. The employer’s “90 day modified duty policy” was not, as applied to workers like E.C., compliant with the law.

In E.C.’s case, there appears to have been a lack of an interactive process and an effort to create a reasonable accommodation. An appropriate interactive process should be a back-and-forth between employer and employee intended to end in an accommodation for the employee that addresses both the job’s demands and the employee’s limitations. For example, an employer that has hired an employee with a gastrointestinal disease to work in a job that requires being near her phone to take calls might provide an accommodation by affording that employee with the gastrointestinal disability extra restroom breaks or restroom breaks of extra-long duration.

This employer simply allowed E.C. to avoid lifting heavy loads for 90+ days and then, after that, unilaterally refused to let E.C. work without medical clearance. While that was an accommodation of sorts, it was not reasonable. The employer’s conduct also seemed to show a lack of dialogue, which is a required element of the interactive process. As a result of these failures by the employer, the employee won her case.

Employees should not be shut out of employment simply because they are persons with disabilities. If you’ve been fired because of your disability, you may be entitled to substantial compensation for the harm you’ve suffered. Reach out to the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Attorney Fuerch is an experienced Oakland employment law attorney with many years of helping workers victimized by discrimination and wrongful termination. To learn more about how we can help, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.