My Ailment Doesn’t Qualify as a Disability Under Federal Law. Can I Still Pursue a Disability Discrimination Case in California?

Most people probably understand that there is federal law and state law and that the two are distinct. What does that mean on a practical level for you? For one, just because you don’t have an employment law case under the federal law, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you automatically don’t have a case under California law. That includes things like disability discrimination law, as the case of one Southern California personal trainer recently illustrated. What you can take away from this case and those like it is that the law has many subtleties, nuances and distinctions and, if you’ve been hurt at work and your employer failed to reasonably accommodate your condition or took an adverse employment action because of your disability, you may have a case for compensation under state law, if not federal law. Contact an experienced California disability discrimination attorney to find out more about your options.

The disabled worker in this case (Court of Appeals Case No. No. B266534) was D.M., whom a gym in the San Fernando Valley hired to work as a personal trainer in 2012. Nine months after starting, D.M. dropped a 45-pound weight on his feet. Out of a sense of professionalism, the trainer didn’t yell or swear. D.M. tried to walk off the injury, but the pain was too severe. Despite extreme pain, the trainer did not miss work, due to his desire to show dedication to his employer. Others, though, including the gym’s general manager, could see the trainer walking with a limp.

Two weeks after the injury, the gym terminated D.M.’s employment. The gym contended that it fired the trainer for failing to meet certain performance goals. The trainer asserted that the employer impermissibly discriminated against him based upon his disability. The employer initially won, with the trial court awarding summary judgment in its favor. The trial judge stated that the trainer did not have evidence of a disability that limited him from working or participating in any other major life activity.

The trainer won his appeal, however. One of the key things that the appeals court pointed out in its opinion was the difference between federal disability law and California disability law. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a condition must be something that “substantially limits” one or more major life activities in order to qualify as a disability. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, a condition need only limit one or major life activities in any way; the limit does not have to be substantial. In other words, the hurdle for an ailment to qualify as a disability is lower under the FEHA than it is the ADA.

The evidence of D.M.’s limp was very important to his successful appeal. He had proof that he limped while doing his job after the injury and that others, including the gym’s general manager, saw him limping. This evidence of limping was clear proof that the injury had impaired D.M. in the major life activity of walking. FEHA law did not require proof that this limitation was substantial. The trainer didn’t need proof that he couldn’t walk; just evidence that he was limited in his walking as a result of the disability created by the workplace injury.

If you have been hurt at work but have been denied an accommodation for the disability that resulted, you may be entitled to a legal judgment and compensation. The Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch are here to help. We have been working hard for many years to help those injured by disability discrimination at work. 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:

Know Before You Sign: How a Workers’ Compensation Settlement Cost a Delivery Driver His Age Discrimination Lawsuit, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, July 6, 2018

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

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