California Administrative Assistant Fired While on Medical Leave Lands $723K Judgment

There are various ways that an employer can be in violation of the workplace anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. With regard to employees with disabilities, the employer can become liable by failing to provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation of the disability. The employer can also be liable if it does not engage with the employee in a good-faith interactive process toward working out a reasonable accommodation. California law has certain clear requirements regarding what is demanded of employers when it comes to making reasonable accommodations and engaging in the interactive process. If you think you have been subjected to discrimination due to your disability, you may have a case and may be entitled to compensation, so you should reach out to a knowledgeable California disability discrimination attorney right away.

An example of an employee who did not get a reasonable accommodation was Marisa, an administrative assistant for a community college in Orange County. Marisa started on a probationary basis, with her employment agreement calling for evaluations at her three-month, seven-month, and 11-month anniversaries. At her one-year anniversary, the employee’s employment would become permanent.

Eight months into her current employment, and with the employer’s permission, Marisa took an absence from work in order to have surgery on her injured knuckle. The leave called for Marisa to return to work right around her one-year anniversary. Shortly prior to that date (and while the worker was still on leave), the college fired Marisa, allegedly due to a lack of performance reviews.

The woman sued the employer for disability discrimination in violation of the FEHA, alleging that the college both failed to provide a reasonable accommodation and failed to engage in a good-faith interactive process.

The college asserted that it had no choice but to terminate Marisa before she reached her 12-month anniversary because, if it didn’t, it would be forced to retain her as a permanent employee, even though it had not evaluated her performance. It also argued that it accommodated Marisa by allowing her to take leave for the surgery.

The trial court sided with the employee and awarded her more than $723,000 in damages. The court of appeal upheld that decision. The appeals court explained that an employer must not merely provide an accommodation to an employee with disabilities, but it must provide a reasonable one. In this circumstance, the accommodation provided (leave to get the surgery) could “hardly be considered reasonable” if it came with an implied condition that Marisa would lose her job if she actually took that leave.

The appeals court explained that the employer had more options than the two it claimed it had. The employer claimed its only choices were either to grant permanent status to an un-reviewed employee or else to fire that worker. The court explained that the employer was free to calculate the administrative assistant’s medical leave into the date when her employment became permanent. In other words, it could have set the date of Marisa’s reaching permanent employee status as her one-year anniversary date plus the length of her medical absence. Since the employer had this reasonable option available to it but did not use it, the courts decided that its conduct could not amount to good faith.

If you have experienced a disability, and your employer failed to accommodate you, you may be entitled to compensation. The Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have been working hard for many years to protect the rights of workers with disabilities. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Can Obesity Be the Basis of a Valid Disability Discrimination Case in California?, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Feb. 13, 2018

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

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