Employer’s Neutral Application of Its Policies Dooms California Sales Representative’s FEHA Case

In a disability discrimination case, there are several things that can possibly help the employee win her claim. These may include an employer’s non-neutral manner of applying company policies or a failure to engage properly in the interactive process. For one pharmaceutical company sales representative, her employer did none of these improper things, leading the federal courts to conclude that the employer had not violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The employee who sued in this circumstance was a sales representative for a major pharmaceutical manufacturer. While employed by the pharma company, the employee was involved in a serious vehicle accident. Ten months into the sales rep’s leave, the employer replaced her with someone else. The employee did not take another position with the company, and, after 12 months of leave, the employer terminated the rep’s employment.

The employee sued in federal court, alleging that the employer’s termination of her employment amounted to disability discrimination in violation of the FEHA. Neither the Central District of California nor the Ninth Circuit agreed. While some employees who were fired under similar circumstances might have had a case under FEHA, there were several flaws with this employee’s lawsuit, according to the Ninth Circuit.

First, the sales rep failed to establish that the adverse employment action she incurred (termination) was a result of discrimination. The employer’s leave policy said that any disabled employee was entitled to job protection and full pay for six months. The employer also allowed for an extended disability plan for another six months. Anyone who didn’t return to work after 12 months was terminated. This policy, the Ninth Circuit concluded, was neutral and non-discriminatory.

The law of discrimination cases requires an employee to present a prima facie case of discrimination. The employer may counter that by offering proof of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its action. In this case, even if the sales rep presented a prima facie case of discrimination, the employer could point to its policy (and the rep’s failure to return to work) and identify that as its valid, non-discriminatory reason for terminating the employee.

An employee’s case can be helped if she has proof of the employer’s failure to engage in a timely interactive process. That didn’t happen in this case. The employer provided contact information related to a leave specialist, and the employer put the rep in touch with a job-posting board and a diversity manager. The company even helped the rep find a new doctor during her 12 months of leave.

Additionally, the employer in this case wasn’t required to offer a reasonable accommodation beyond simply the 12 months of extended leave. As the Ninth Circuit pointed out, California law doesn’t require indefinite leave as an accommodation of a disability, nor does it require an employer to hold a disabled employee’s job open on an open-ended basis.

For reliable advice and representation regarding your employment discrimination case, talk to the knowledgeable Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. We have been working for many years to help employees pursue and protect their rights. For more information regarding how this office 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:

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

California Counselor Allowed to Pursue Sexual Orientation Discrimination Case Even Though She Was Heterosexual, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Jan. 26, 2017

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