Sick employee entitled to ‘reasonable accommodation’ even after long absence
Tristan Do worked as a mechanical engineer at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems Company for eight years without any issues. However, that changed when he started reporting to a new supervisor who unfairly singled him out for performance deficiencies. Do believed that his status as a gay man played a role in the supervisor’s harassing conduct. Do then experienced a debilitating physical and mental condition for which he took a medical leave of absence.
Upon being released back to work, Do requested a transfer to a different supervisor, which the employer denied. After a two-year medical leave of absence, Do was informed by email that he must return to work for the same supervisor or he would be terminated. Within days of that email, Do was fired.
Do sued the employer for wrongful termination based on disability discrimination, among other things. Do presented an email that the supervisor sent to HR requesting that Do be immediately terminated for complaining about the supervisor, and that the supervisor was concerned that the complaint could jeopardize the supervisor’s bonus. Do argued that this was direct evidence of retaliation.
The employer asserted that Do was fired due to Raytheon’s Medical Leave of Absence Policy after having been on a leave of absence for over two years. The employer further claimed that there was no discrimination, and that Do and the supervisor simply could not work well together due to a personality conflict.
California law prohibits discrimination based on disability or medical condition. If a disabled employee is unable to perform his or her work duties, the employer must engage in a timely, good faith interactive process to determine if reasonable accommodation can be made for the employee. This means an employee suffering from a disability or medical condition is entitled to reasonable accommodation.
Allowing temporary leave may constitute reasonable accommodation. The employer must in good faith determine whether a disabled employee can be transferred or reassigned to a vacant position. The employer is in a better position to know what jobs are vacant or may become vacant. Additionally, the law entitles the disabled employee to “preferential consideration” in reassignment of existing employees.
If the disabled employee was terminated, even though he or she could have performed the job with reasonable accommodation, the employer’s conduct may be wrongful. The employee, who sues for wrongful termination and prevails, may be entitled to the following: reinstatement, back pay, loss of future earnings, damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs in certain instances.
Providing reasonable accommodation to disabled employees is intended to remove barriers to equal opportunities. Employers must not deny employment opportunities because of an employee’s disability or medical condition. However, despite protections provided under disability discrimination laws, some employers continue to flout the law.
Do’s case went to trial for 11 days. The jury eventually found in favor of Do, deciding that the employer failed to engage in interactive process and failed to accommodate the employee. The jury then awarded the employee $550,000 in loss of earnings damages, $450,000 in emotional distress damages, and $750,000 in punitive damages for a total award of $1,750,000.
Employees who are wrongfully terminated need to know that there are legal remedies available to them. An experienced employment attorney may help them clarify what to do next.
The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.comor our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award for 2016.]