Category: Disability Discrimination

Disability Discrimination

California Disability Discrimination Law

The governing body of Federal law regarding disability is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a minimum standard, which means that individual states are able to further adjust or change their individual laws regarding disability. California’s disability discrimination law is unique because it takes a much broader approach to the word “disability.” This means that California recognizes a lot more illnesses, injuries, conditions, and diseases as qualifying for disability status than Federal law.

California law states describes a disability as a condition that limits one or more major life activities. Because working is considered a major life activity, any condition that affects an individual’s ability to work may be considered a disability under California law. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) recognizes individuals as “disabled” if they have a physical or mental condition that limits one or more major life activities, or they are incorrectly treated as having a disability, regardless of whether or not they actually have an impairment. There are three categories of disabilities: physical disabilities, mental disabilities, and medical conditions. Physical disabilities include physiological disease, disorders, conditions, and cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss that affects one or more of the following body systems: neurological, immunological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory, including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin and endocrine systems. Mental disabilities may include conditions such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, certain learning disabilities, or other mental or psychological disorder or conditions that require special education or related services.
California disability law is not concerned with an individual’s ability to perform alternate jobs; they only need to be unable to perform the regular duties of the particular job they are pursuing. Furthermore, California law makes this determination without looking at mitigating factors like medication, assistive devices, reasonable accommodation, etc. An example of a mitigating factor would be the use of glasses to correct one’s vision. Even though an individual can correct their vision to near perfect with glasses, the law would still consider the bad vision a disability, as they would not be able to see properly without glasses as the mitigating factor. FEHA also ignores mitigating factors when determining whether a condition is a disability. This creates a system that works in favor of employees.

There are some conditions, however, that do not count as disabilities. These are sexual behavior disorders including but not limited to pedophilia, exhibitionism, or voyeurism. Also not covered are compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, or psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from illegal drugs.

Another key aspect of California disability law is the interactive process between employers and employees. The Fair Employment and Housing Commission focuses their evaluation of disability cases on whether the employer provided or attempted to provide the disabled employee with a reasonable accommodation. The interactive process is an open line of communication between employer and employee, where the parties work together to develop assistive measures for best accommodating an employee’s disability. The result is called a reasonable accommodation, which enables a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of the job. In order to qualify as a proper accommodation, the FEHA mentions that any adjustment made must be effective in overcoming the limitation. This accommodation could come in the form of time taken off to see a doctor, more frequent breaks, extra time to complete tasks, etc. It is important to keep in mind that the FEHA does not expect disabled employees to be accommodated without regard for the burden placed on an employer. Instead, the FEHA uses an undue hardship standard, which is considered whenever there is a mention of a reasonable accommodation.

View more information about disability discrimination and how our lawyers can help – http://www.aegislawfirm.com/ca-employment-law-practice-areas/disability-discrimination/

Wrongful Termination

Big Payout for Wrongful Termination of HR Director

A huge settlement was recently awarded to Cynthia Begazo for her wrongful termination case. Begazo initiated the case in September of 2015 after she was fired from Passages Malibu Rehab Center. She alleged that the termination was wrongful on the basis of discrimination and retaliation.

Begazo started working for Passages Malibu in March 2015 as their Human Resources Director. She was 53 at the time, and disclosed to her employers that she had been suffering from Leukemia. That same month, she first approached Passages co-founder Pax Prentiss about some concerns she had. She had noticed that some of the staff members such as maintenance, housekeepers, and kitchen workers were not receiving their lunches and breaks. Being in charge of HR, it would have been partially her responsibility to make sure the company was in compliance with state laws regarding lunches, breaks, and the like. Prentiss’ reply however, was disheartening. He allegedly told her, “Don’t worry about it. You have bigger things to worry about.” Around this time, Begazo also mentioned the facility’s compliance issues with training, licensure and contracts, but states that nothing was done to correct the issues.

The following month, the (soon to be) COO Marina Mahoney and Prentiss asked Begazo to terminate three employees – all of whom had medical issues. Begazo protested, telling Mahoney and Prentiss that terminating employees because of medical conditions was illegal. Mahoney replied that, “she would fire anyone that was too slow, could not keep up, [and] who did not fit in with the ‘new Passages’.” This was not the only occasion where Mahoney seemingly targeted employees with medical issues. Begazo alleges that throughout her employment, there were several times where Mahoney told her she did not like it when employees took time off for medical reasons. After it was all said and done, the three employees Mahoney singled out were in fact let go. C.J. Robinson was the first of these three to be terminated in April of 2015. When Begazo asked why she had been fired, Mahoney told her it was because Robinson was “too slow”, “smelled foul”, and “can’t keep up because she [was] too old”. Later that month, Debra Saunderson and Mark Bonelli were terminated, both of whom were over the age of 50. Begazo asked for the reasoning behind these terminations as well. Mahoney’s reasoning for letting Bonelli go was because, “he’s old” and she didn’t think “he’s ever going to keep up.” Again, Begazo warned Mahoney about the legality of terminating employees due to the age. Mahoney replied that she could “do whatever she wanted” because of the at-will presumption.

Not too long after, Kathryn Rivas (Passages Program Director) informed Begazo that she would need to take leave in order to recover from a medical condition. Begazo took this information to Mahoney who replied, “You know what, she’ll never work here. She’ll never work for me.” Despite Begazo’s concern over firing an employee with a medical condition, both Mahoney and Prentiss continued to press her, asking if there was “any way to fire” the employee. While the employee was on leave, Pretniss and Mahoney allegedly harassed Rivas. Begazo warned Prentiss that he should not contact an employee at all while they are on leave, “let alone harass them”. However, Prentiss ignored her recommendations.

In a shocking turn of events, a patient was found dead in his room on April 23rd, 2015. Upon inspection of the scene, Mahoney found that there was a plastic bag and a trash can covering the patient’s head, scratch marks on his face, and blood on the bed of the patient’s roommate. These details led Mahoney to note that although they initially thought the death was a suicide, it could have been a homicide. Begazo asked if all of this information had been given to the appropriate entities (detectives, Department of Health, the Joint Commission, and liability carrier). Mahoney replied, “I don’t want to say anything until there’s a medical report….I don’t want you reporting any of it.” After this, she promptly walked out of the room. Begazo reviewed employee files and discovered that the nurse on duty the night of the death had not received proper training. Mahoney admitted that the facility did not have “any formal or written procedures for intake, detoxing, and monitoring” the patients. Mahoney then ordered Begazo to alter the employee files and falsify information about the events surrounding the patient’s death, which Begazo refused to do. After this, Begazo states that Mahoney stopped talking to her, leaving her excluded from projects and employee meetings.

Around April 30th 2015, Begazo contracted an infection due to her Leukemia. Despite having a fever of 102 degrees, she went to work anyway due to fear of losing her job. Begazo’s doctor then put her off of work for one week in order to give her time to recuperate. Begazo informed the HR department and Mahoney on May 1st 2015 that she needed to take at least a three day absence from work due to the medical problems. She states that upon receiving this news, Mahoney was “visibly upset”.

Similar to what happened to the other employee that went on medical leave, Begazo states that while she was out she was contacted several times by Mahoney regarding work matters. She also required her to reply to all work related emails and telephone calls from staff members.

On May 3rd, Pretntiss and Mahoney met with the HR staff, and informed them that they would be terminating Begazo due to her medical leave of absence. At this time, Prentiss also offered Begazo’s job to HR generalist in Begazo’s department.

On May 6th 2015, Begazo returned to work only to be told that she was being terminated. Interestingly enough, Prentiss commented “You’re no longer a fit, but your skills and experience are excellent.”

Due to the overwhelming evidence of disability discrimination and retaliation (amongst other claims) on the part of Passages Malibu, the court found in favor of Begazo on March 3rd, 2017. The award amount totaled $1.8 million dollars.

 

Sources:

http://patch.com/california/malibu/former-passages-malibu-employee-alleges-improriety-lawsuit-0

http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20150921/passages-malibu-rehab-center-sued-by-ex-hr-director-with-laundry-list-of-allegations

https://dlbjbjzgnk95t.cloudfront.net/0898000/898594/operativecomplaint.pdf

 

Disability Discrimination

HIV+ Disability Discrimination case will proceed

HIV positive employee’s disability discrimination, failure to accommodate claims will proceed, court rules

A Washington court has ruled that an employee’s claims of disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, retaliation, and wage withholding will proceed. The Defendants in the case, Kindred Nursing Centers West, had filed for summary judgement on said claims in hopes of having them dismissed.

The case was originally filed in 2014 by David Edman. He began working for the employers in July 2011 as their Food Services Manager. He worked without incident from his hired through the receipt of a new direct supervisor, Sandra Hurd. She became the facility’s new Executive Director in November 2012, and Edman reported to her directly. It wasn’t until April of 2013 however that Edman disclosed to Hurd that he is HIV positive.

In summer of 2013, Edman’s health began to deteriorate. He began losing a significant amount of weight, and his co-workers grew concerned about his wellbeing. That July, he received a written warning from Hurd regarding two arguments he had with staff members – one with a nurse, and one with a vendor. Edman admitted he had raised his voice, but stated his disposition was being negatively affected by his illness.

On July 29th, Edman had the day off from work for a previously scheduled doctor’s appointment. He received a call from Hurd however, telling him that the Department of Health & Human Services dropped by unexpectedly to conduct their annual survey. Edman claims that he told her he was ill and on the way to the doctor’s, but she insisted that he come in to work anyway. Hurd however claims that she did call to tell him about the survey, but did not ask him to come in, and rather said that she could handle it without him. Regardless, Edman cancelled his doctor’s appointment and worked from that day through August 6th at the conclusion of the survey. During that time, one of the surveyors complained to Hurd that Edman seemed “focused only on the timing of the meals, and not the accuracy or quality”, and also that he was yelling at staff members. Despite this complaint and his illness, Edman’s area received only one mark of deficiency. Hurd admitted he had “worked long hours throughout the week of the survey without asking for time off or accommodations for his illness”.

With the survey concluded, Edman was able to finally see his doctor on August 8th. At this appointment, his doctor Thomas Smith suggested that he go on immediate medical leave. Edman’s request to his employers for leave was granted, and he began receiving short term disability benefits.

Edman returned to work on October 1st, 2013. He had previously requested to work part-time for the first two weeks he was back, which was granted. However, on his first day back he received a written warning and was put on a Performance Improvement Plan for his behavior during the survey. Edman did not object to the behavior, citing “multiple infections and lack of sleep” as the cause of the issues. Hurd responded allegedly by saying that his medical conditions were “not an excuse”. Edman was the only employee disciplined because of the survey, despite the fact that the manager of another area received nine citations.

Later that month, Edman’s health took another serious hit as he was diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma – a form of cancer. Though he qualified under social security as having a disability, he would still be able to work without accommodations. On October 29th, he requested temporary accommodations while he was being treated as well as intermittent FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) leave. Upon hearing his requests, Hurd allegedly replied, “No, I can’t do this. You still have to do your job.” Two days later, Edman, Hurd, and HR Director Elaine Revelle met. There, they told Edman that they would not be able to provide the requested accommodations and he would instead be placed on unpaid leave while they discussed the situation. To add insult to injury, he was asked to leave the building thereafter.

During his leave, Edman sent several emails asking for the process to be sped up as he had no source of income. After providing additional information regarding his accommodations and an updated note from his doctor, some of Edman’s accommodations were finally granted on November 22nd. However, the acceptance came with the expectation for Edman to have cooking duties added to his work load. They stated this was necessary due to budget cuts. It wouldn’t be until December that more of his accomodations were granted, intended to allow him uninterrupted lunch in his office with the door closed and not having to interview residents. Other accommodations he had requested were denied, such as a temporary moratorium on changing dining services department operations, staffing, or duties, two weeks’ notice of any such changes, and his request to transfer to a position in the Central Supply Department, which would not require cooking. In place of the last request, the employers agreed to remove cooking from his duties.

On December 9th, Edman sent an email to his attorney describing the great stress the situation had caused him, and expressed an interest in “resolving his employment” with Kindred. The following day, an offer letter was sent to the company, requesting the possibility of his resignation “in exchange for certain compensation and fees”. This offer was rejected by the employers, and instead the parties continued communications about Edman returning to work.

In January 2014, Edman’s doctor released him to return to work with several accommodations, including:

  • Intermittent FMLA leave as needed
  • Uninterrupted 30 min lunch in his office with the door closed
  • 8 business days’ notice prior to deadline for any assessment, planned event, or staffing modification
  • An effort by all parties to keep stress levels low
  • Adequate rest between shifts

On January 6th, Edman returned to work full time but states that the accommodations outlined were not met, which caused his health to deteriorate once again. Despite this, he continued working for over another year before finally going on his last medical leave due to a work related injury. After his leave is when he initiated the lawsuit for claims of disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, retaliation, and wage withholding.

 

Sources:

http://hr.cch.com/eld/EdmanKindred112116.pdf

http://www.employmentlawdaily.com/index.php/news/hiv-positive-manager-put-on-pip-denied-accommodation-advances-disability-bias-claims/

Disability Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has initiated a lawsuit against a McDonald’s franchise for violating the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). A former employee was terminated in February of 2015, seemingly due to his disability – being HIV positive. His termination came only days after management became aware of his condition, though he had been hired in November 2014.

The complaint against Mathews Management Co./Peach Orchard Inc. details one undeniable violation of the ADA, as the franchise required employees to disclose all of their prescribed medications to management. This policy is actually listed in the company’s employee handbook, but no information has been released as to how or when employees are required to disclose. Through such disclosure, management became aware that the “aggrieved party” is HIV positive.

About a week before his termination, the employee was questioned by his shift leader regarding his HIV status. At this time, the supervisor warned the plaintiff that he may be fired, because another female employee was previously terminated due to being HIV positive [Disability Discrimination]. At a different meeting with the general manager, the employee faced questioning about his relationship with a co-worker. The employee admitted they had an “interest” in their co-worker, and also had he had confided his HIV positive status to them. It was at this meeting that the employee was terminated, supposedly due to “attendance issues”. The plaintiff and his council maintain that other employees with far worse attendance records continue to work without consequence.

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, and seeks to protect employees from Disability Discrimination. Under federal rule, a disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual”. HIV positive status is protected under the ADA, both symptomatic and asymptomatic. Not only would it protect those with a disability, it also extends protection to those associated with someone having a disability. For example, if employment was denied to an applicant because their partner has AIDS/HIV. Additionally, a “presumed” disability would not be an acceptable reason for termination/denial of employment.

There are some stipulations for ADA coverage to be applicable to an employee. First, the business must be a private entity employing 15 or more people. Moreover, the employee must be able to complete the “essential functions” of the job, with or without “reasonable accommodation”. Alleviation of the “essential functions” would not be considered a “reasonable accommodation. The ADA describes an essential job function as “Essential functions of the job are those core duties that are the reason the job position exists. For example, an essential function of a typist’s position is the ability to type; an essential function of a bus driver s position is the ability to drive. Requiring the ability to perform “essential” functions assures that an individual with a disability will not be considered unqualified because of his or her inability to perform marginal or incidental job functions”.

Regarding what a reasonable accommodation includes, the law states, “A ‘reasonable accommodation’ is any modification or adjustment to a job, the job application process, or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job, participate in the application process, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. Examples of ‘reasonable accommodations’ include: making existing facilities readily accessible to and usable by employees with disabilities; restructuring a job; modifying work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment; and reassigning a current employee to a vacant position for which the individual is qualified”.

Finally, an employer is not required to make a certain reasonable accommodation if the accommodation would place an “undue hardship” upon the business and its operations. Generally, the larger the company, the less chance there is that an employee’s absence or accommodations will place an undue hardship upon the company as there will be more resources available to support the change. Finally, it is the responsibility of the employee to notify the employer that they need accommodations in order to perform their job successfully. An employer cannot be held responsible for conditions they were not aware of.

Events like the ones the former McDonald’s employee was forced to endure are what the ADA seeks to prevent. The good news is, the employee took appropriate action by retaining an attorney to fight their case. If you have experienced a similar situation, or feel like you may have been terminated due to your disability, please contact our firm as soon as possible for a confidential no obligation case evaluation. Injustices shouldn’t go without consequence. For all Disability Discrimination inquires contact us at aegislawfirm.com, an award winning law firm representing employees only.

SOURCES:

https://www.ada.gov/archive/hivqanda.txt

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mcdonalds-hiv-lawsuit-idUSKCN0ZL2TZ

https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/7-5-16.cfm

http://www.eater.com/2016/7/6/12105692/mcdonalds-hiv-discrimination-lawsuit-eeoc

Walmart whistleblower to receive $31.2mil settlement for wrongful termination

A New Hampshire woman by the name of Maureen McPadden was terminated from Walmart in 2012 – after 18 years of service to the retail mogul. You may be wondering, what could someone do to warrant termination after so many years with a company? Well, McPadden was terminated for (and here’s where it gets interesting) losing her pharmacy key…according to her former employers.

McPadden subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging her termination was actually the result of retaliation for whistleblowing, gender discrimination, and disability discrimination. The complaint alleges that McPadden made several complaints to management and outside entities that there were not enough properly trained employees to fill orders in a safe and efficient manner. However, all of her efforts were ignored. McPadden and her counsel assert that her protestations were part of the reason she was terminated, and management was looking for a reason, any reason, to get rid of her. Additionally, there was evidence that a male pharmacist also lost his key (after McPadden’s termination) but he received a “level one coaching”, while McPadden received a more severe punishment. Finally, McPadden’s termination occurred less than two months after she had returned from stress leave (during which, her manager announced the plaintiff’s prescription to co-workers, resulting in an additional charge of privacy violation).

After a five day trial, the verdict was announced in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her over $31mil. The breakdown is as follows:

“$15 million in punitive damages on her Title VII gender discrimination claim, and another $15 million in enhanced compensatory damages under the New Hampshire Law Against Discrimination (NHLAD). In addition, the jury awarded the pharmacist $164,093 in back pay, $558,392.87 in front pay, and $500,000 in compensatory damages. “

Walmart is no stranger to employment lawsuits – from wage and hour disputes, to discrimination and harassment allegations. The company is currently dealing with two other suits which claim the plaintiffs faced sex discrimination.

 

Sources: http://www.employmentlawdaily.com/index.php/news/walmart-pharmacist-fired-after-reporting-legal-and-safety-concerns-wins-31-2m-verdict/

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/01/29/maureen-mcpadden-walmart-lawsuit_n_9113684.html