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  • Most people know that employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. But they are also required to accommodate those whom they perceive or regard as disabled. A new California case, Moore v. Regents of the Univ. of California, 248 Cal.App.4th 216 (2016) affirms these obligations and has terrific language with respect to employee accommodation and leave rights.

    Background

    Deborah Moore worked as UCSD’s Director of Marketing. In mid-2010, a new person took over as her supervisor and sought to restructure the department. A couple of months later, Moore was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a condition affecting the heart muscles that can lead to heart failure. Her doctor ordered her to wear a heart monitor and external defibrillator for several weeks. Moore told her supervisor about her heart condition and needs, and assured the supervisor that “there was nothing to worry about, that it would take care of itself” and that she would be able to do her job, “no problem.” Her supervisor, however, was concerned—unilaterally deciding to “lighten [Moore’s] load to get rid of some of the stress.” The supervisor asked HR what to do in the case of a medical event and admitted that she asked how to handle Moore as a liability. After that, the relationship between Moore and her supervisor soured, with Moore believing that the supervisor was unfairly criticizing her, yelling at her, taking away her duties, and demoting her because of her heart condition. Some time later, Moore advised that she would need some time off to get a pacemaker put in. The supervisor then eliminated Moore’s position and terminated her—even though Moore had more seniority than a colleague of hers and that this was a violation of policy. In the following six-month period, new employees were hired, including for roles that Moore was well-qualified to perform.

    Moore’s Complaint and History of Her Case

    Moore sued, alleging causes of action under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process, and retaliation, as well as causes of action for interference and retaliation under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Note that Moore’s disability causes of action were based on perceived disability, rather than actual disability.

    The Regents moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Moore appealed.

    The Court of Appeal’s Decision

    The Court of Appeal held that summary judgment was improperly granted with respect to all but one of Moore’s causes of action. In doing so, the court followed the holding of Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 140 Cal.App.4th 34 (2006), which holds that employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations and engage in the interactive process with those that they regard as disabled. It quoted the rationale laid out in Gelfo:

    “An employer who in unable or unwilling to shed his or her stereotypic assumptions based on a faulty or prejudiced perception of an employees abilities must be prepared to accommodate the artificial limitations created by his or her own faulty perceptions.”

  • Mom hugging child

    Update 9/4/16: On August 29, 2016, the Court of Appeal issued an opinion on rehearing that retreated from its prior holding that the FEHA creates a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person. However, the opinion still holds that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant on the plaintiff’s claims for associational disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The court indicated that, given that the plaintiff has abandoned his failure to accommodate cause of action, it would not decide the point. It noted, however, that “when section 12940, subdivision (m) requires employers to reasonably accommodate ‘the known physical … disability of an applicant or employee,’ read in conjunction with other relevant provisions, subdivision (m) may reasonably be interpreted to require accommodation based on the employee’s association with a physically disabled person.” Because the cause of action was abandoned, “[w]e only observe that the accommodation issue is not settled and that it appears significantly intertwined with the statutory prohibition against disability discrimination. . . .” I leave the below analysis as a discussion of what could have been a dramatic expansion of rights for California workers who care for disabled relatives, reflecting an issue that continues to remain undecided for now.

    A new case—Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 180—dramatically expands the rights of California employees who care for disabled relatives. It holds that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) creates a duty for employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee who is associated with a disabled person.

    Background

    Employees with disabilities have long been protected in the workplace, including by the FEHA and by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are protected from discrimination, retaliation, and harassment based on their disabilities. In addition, employers must take affirmative steps to accommodate them to enable them to work. If a qualified employee with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must provide it unless it “can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.” There are many types of reasonable accommodations, such as job restructuring and changes to job duties, modified schedules, reassignments, use of specialized equipment, and medical leave.

    Employees have also been protected from discrimination based on their relationship or association with a person with a known disability. This includes discrimination based on unfounded fears and stigmas (for example, against someone whose partner has HIV) and discrimination based on assumptions that employees might not be as available because of their caregiving obligations (for example, against a parent whose child has special needs).

    However, until recently, employers’ obligations to provide workplace accommodations to people who care for those with disabilities were limited.

  • worker in need of a reasonable accommodation

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) require accommodations for employees with disabilities. If a qualified employee requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must provide it unless it “can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation […]

  • worker denied disability leave

    This is another post in my series on mistakes employers make. In this post, I discuss employer leave policies–specifically those that impose maximum leave amounts and “no fault” attendance policies–and why they can end up unlawfully denying employees their rights. While this post covers obligations under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), I will refer to the ADA only with the understanding that it sets the “floor of protection” under the FEHA (and the FEHA, in fact, affords workers greater protections).

    An Inflexible Maximum Leave Policy Violates the ADA

    Many employers have “maximum leave” policies, under which employees are automatically terminated. . . .

  • Here’s a scenario that I come across regularly: A worker with health issues goes out on a medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Her employer tells her that once her FMLA/CFRA leave is exhausted, she will be terminated if she cannot return to work immediately. The worker is unable to return to work at the required date and is fired.

    Big mistake. Here’s why: Even if the worker’s leave is no longer covered by the FMLA/CFRA (or was not covered in the first place), other protections may apply, including those created by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). . . .