Pregnancy: Temporary disability that requires Calif. employer accommodation
Crystal Losorelli worked as a correctional officer at a men’s prison in Chino. She became pregnant and requested light duty assignment. Crystal had asked for a similar accommodation in a prior pregnancy, which was granted by the employer. But this time, in response to her request, the employer reclassified her as a part-time employee, and not entitled to pregnancy accommodations.
She went on leave for a few weeks and went back to work on light duty. However, when she was five months pregnant, the employer transferred her back to her regular duties where she was required to wear heavy gear and subdue inmates. She had a panic attack and went on stress leave.
Crystal sued her employer for pregnancy discrimination, failure to accommodate, and failure to engage in the interactive process, among others. She claimed emotional distress damages as a result of the employer’s treatment. The employer argued that Crystal was granted accommodation and was offered an assignment to guard entry gates, which she refused.
Under California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (the pregnancy law), pregnancy – and all its related medical conditions such as severe morning sickness, doctor-ordered bed rest, childbirth, recovery from childbirth – is considered a temporary disability.
Thus, similar to temporarily disabled employees, a pregnant employee is entitled to reasonable accommodation. In order to find out what reasonable accommodation can be extended to the employee, the employer must enter into a good-faith, interactive process to determine if there is a reasonable accommodation that would allow the employee to keep working.
How should the parties engage in the “interactive process”? The employer may request accommodation, and the employer may consult with the employee to find out what the employee’s limitations are that prevent her from doing the job, finding out how the employee could do her job with a reasonable accommodation, and identifying potential accommodations and assessing their effectiveness.
The employer must enter into the interactive process in “good faith.” This means that both employer and employee must communicate directly with each other and provide important information related to the disability. Neither party can delay or interfere with the process.
To demonstrate good-faith in the interactive process, the employer should show cooperation by identifying and carrying out an appropriate accommodation for the disabled employee. An employer’s failure to engage in the interactive process in good faith is itself a violation of California law.
In Crystal’s case, there were facts to show that the employer failed to engage in interactive process with pregnant employee to find out her medical restrictions. Worse, the employer ignored the pregnant employee’s request for accommodation to be put on light duty.
As reported by the Daily Journal, the parties agreed to settle the case upon payment of $925,000 to Crystal for her damages.
Despite abundant information available regarding pregnancy and disability discrimination laws, some employers continue to flout the law. Pregnant employees should not hesitate to explore legal remedies if they find themselves victimized by errant employers.
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.com or 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.]