A San Diego federal district court recently provided guidance on what constitutes an "adverse employment action" and how an employer’s shifting reasons for its actions may affect a discrimination case. In Coyne v. County of San Diego, the plaintiff, an employee, sued her employer for discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. The plaintiff claimed that she was transferred to a lateral position in a different division because of her gender and because she actively supported the gender discrimination claims of other employees. The County filed a motion for summary judgment. The parties conceded that the plaintiff had engaged in protected activity. The issues were whether the transfer constituted a materially adverse employment action and whether the transfer was justified by legitimate non-discriminatory reasons.

Continue Reading A Company’s Shifting Reasons For An Employment Decision Can Hurt The Company’s Defense

Flu season is upon us. With the recent outbreak of the H1N1 Virus ("Swine Flu") as well as the ever-present seasonal flu, employers must face increased absenteeism by their employees. Much like the regular flu, H1N1 causes fever, sore throat, nausea and fatigue. However, this particular strain of illness is predicted to be particularly dangerous not only for those with preexisting medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes, but also for those under the age of 25, as opposed to the elderly who are normally at highest risk of severe injury or death from the seasonal flu. This means that employers will likely see more of their younger employees affected by the H1N1 virus than from the regular flu.

Continue Reading H1N1 Virus and the Workplace: Will this Year’s Flu Cause a Headache for Employers Too?

The California Court of Appeal recently affirmed a decision by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission ("FEHC") finding that an employer discriminated against a pregnant employee in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. In SASCO Electric v. FEHC, an extremely experienced female who served as a second captain of a yacht was terminated shortly after she informed her employer that she was pregnant. Her employer was admittedly disappointed by the news because he believed that "mothers do not want to work in the boating business." Moreover, he believed the employee’s plan to work as long as possible during her pregnancy was "cavalier." Further, he had liability concerns (e.g., her exposure to chemicals and possibly falling on the boat which could lead to a miscarriage). These fears lead the employer to terminate her employment under the guise of a layoff.

Continue Reading Unsubstantiated Concerns Ruled Pregnancy Discrimination – A Cautionary Tale

A California Court of Appeal has ruled that an employee who used a company-provided scooter to move around a factory can sue for disability bias after the scooter broke and was not replaced by the employer.  This despite the fact that there was no medical evidence of disability, the employee worked for six months without using a scooter before deciding to retire, and the employee never told the Company he could not do the job without the scooter.

Continue Reading Court of Appeal: Employee Can Sue For Disability Bias Despite Absence Of Medical Evidence And Absence Of Any Explicit Request For An Accommodation

The Second Circuit’s ruling in Westrec Marina Management v. Arrowood Indemnity Co. is a warning to employers to report potential claims to their insurance carrier as soon as possible or face denial of coverage.  In Westrec, an employee filed a charge of discrimination against Westrec with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and requested an immediate right to sue letter.  Subsequently, her attorney sent a demand letter to Westrec asserting claims and seeking possible early settlement prior to filing a lawsuit.  At the time of the letter, Westrec failed to inform its insurer, Arrowood, of the claim.  The employee later filed a civil action, and when Westrec tendered the claim, Arrowood denied coverage.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Court Of Appeals Rules That An Employer Must Notify Its Insurer Of A Potential Claim Upon Receiving A Demand Letter From Counsel

The California Supreme Court today issued a 4-3 decision in the case of Green v. State of California, resolving a split in authority regarding the burden of proof in disability discrimination cases under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (the "FEHA"). It is now settled that a plaintiff alleging disability discrimination under the FEHA must prove that s/he was qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. The defendant does not have to affirmatively prove that the plaintiff was unqualified in order to avoid liability.

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Confirms That Plaintiff Claiming Disability Discrimination Under FEHA Must Show Qualification for Position

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA") requires employers to engage in an interactive process to determine whether reasonable accommodation can be made to allow employees with known disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs. In Charles Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corporation, the California Court of Appeal held that an employer must engage in an informal interactive process with, and make reasonable accommodation for, an employee or applicant who is "regarded as" being physically disabled, even though the individual may not actually be physically disabled.

Continue Reading Disability Is In The Eye of the Beholder: Court Of Appeal Mandates Employer Accommodation Of Employees “Regarded As” Disabled

In September 2005, we reported on the California Court of Appeal’s decision in Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications Inc., 132 Cal. App. 4th 590, finding that an employer may refuse to employ a person who is using marijuana in accordance with the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. (See, “Court Holds That A Company May Terminate A Medical Marijuana User,” September 14, 2005.) However, on November 30, 2005, the California Supreme Court granted review of the case, rendering the prior decision invalid. As a result, employers are again left to question their rights and obligations under the State’s disability accommodation laws versus the federal ban on marijuana use.
Continue Reading Employers’ Termination of Medicinal Marijuana User Called Into Question