Termination while on medical treatments may be discrimination
In August 2013, Albert and Stephanie Garcia, a married couple, were hired by Seltzer-Doren Management Co. dba Sierra Management and Gresham Apartments Investors to be on-site managers of an 81-unit apartment building in Canoga Park. Their compensation package included a monthly salary and the use of a rent-free unit in the same apartment building they were hired to manage. Their agreement also clearly stated there was no landlord and tenant relationship between the Garcias and the company. Instead, the Garcias were entitled to occupy the unit as a condition of their employment only.
In March 2017, Albert Garcia was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and started undergoing treatments. The Garcias informed their employer of Mr. Garcia’s diagnoses. The Garcias requested reasonable accommodation because Mr. Garcia’s surgeries, radiation and other treatments caused him to pause from his duties. By September 2017, the employers reportedly became “noticeably unhappy” with Albert Garcia’s needs to take time off and having to provide him accommodations. The Garcias alleged that they were shunned and scrutinized. Two weeks before Thanksgiving 2017, the Garcia’s were fired from their employment, which resulted in the loss of their apartment.
The Garcias sued their former employers alleging wrongful termination based on disability discrimination and other violations of the employment and housing provisions of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The Garcia’s claimed that the reason for their firing was based on false and pretextual grounds and the real reason is because of Mr. Garcia medical condition/disability (thyroid cancer) and his request for accommodation.
California law prohibits discrimination based on disability or medical condition. The employer has a duty to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees to enable them to work despite their disability. Depending on the employee’s specific restrictions and the employer’s circumstances, an example of reasonable accommodation would be to make facilities accessible to and usable by disabled individuals or offer part-time or modified work schedules.
In Mr. Garcia’s case, the employer had a duty to engage in interactive process and find out whether reasonable accommodation would allow the employee to perform his job duties. Mr. Garcia claimed that, despite his diagnosis, he could have continued to perform the responsibilities of being the resident property manager. As a reasonable accommodation, the employer could have extended Mr. Garcia leave. Additionally, as a cancer patient Mr. Garcia may only be temporarily-disabled. If so, reasonable accommodation might have allowed the employee to keep working.
Two of the most common ways to extend reasonable accommodation to temporarily-disabled employee are:
1) to grant the employee enough medical leave to resolve their temporary disability, and
2) accommodate the employee’s return to work with restrictions.
Discriminated employees may recover the following remedies: back pay, hiring, promotion, reinstatement, front pay, compensatory damages, including emotional pain and suffering, and in more serious violations, punitive damages. Aggrieved employees may also recover attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, and court costs.
The Garcias’ case went to trial before the Los Angeles Superior Court. After 10 days of trial and 6 hours of deliberation, the jury sided with the Garcias. The jury awarded Albert Garcia $2.35 million in compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress and $4 million in punitive damages. Stephanie Garcia was awarded $30,725 in compensatory damages and $1.25 million in punitive damages for a total verdict of $7,633,650. The Garcias were also entitled to attorneys’ fees, which the employer has to pay.
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. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. 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 a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]