California Appeals Court Affirms Lower Court Decision in Wrongful Termination Case

In a recent case, the Second District Court of Appeals Division 8 in California issued an opinion in an appeal involving a termination dispute between an employer and an employee. The plaintiff is a former employee of the defendant, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Cedars). The plaintiff contends that she was wrongfully terminated by Cedars based on disability discrimination and also made a claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). At trial, Cedars filed a motion for summary judgment, and the court issued a written order granting the motion.

Facts of the Case

Plaintiff began working for Cedars in 2000. Throughout her tenure, she worked in an administrative role with no patient care responsibilities. In 2007, the plaintiff was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. The treatment was effective to rid her of cancer but left her with lingering side effects. These included unspecified allergies, a weakened immune system, and neuropathy—damage to the nerves resulting in an ongoing “tingling sensation” in her fingers and toes. None of these side effects limited her ability to perform her job functions, and she successfully returned to work for Cedars in 2009.

Cedars operates a non-profit academic medical center in Los Angeles. In 2017, Cedars announced a new flu vaccine policy. The policy required all employees, regardless of their role, to be vaccinated by the beginning of the flu season. The policy was implemented to limit employee transmission of the flu. The policy was aligned with recommendations by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC defines health care workers in its guidance to include “persons (e.g., clerical, dietary, housekeeping, laundry, security, maintenance, administrative, billing, and volunteers) not directly involved in patient care but potentially exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted to and from health care workers and patients.” The Cedars policy made exceptions only for employees establishing “a valid medical or religious exemption.” Employees seeking medical exemptions were required to submit an exemption request form completed by their physician for review by Cedars’s internal “Exemption Review Panel.”

Following the implementation of the flu vaccine policy, the plaintiff expressed her reluctance to get the vaccine. Subsequently, she made an appointment with her physician. She told him that she feared the side effects of the vaccine and he completed her exemption form. The plaintiff submitted the form to Cedars and it was rejected. None of the reasons provided by her physician were CDC-listed medical exemptions. After the panel rejected the plaintiff’s exemption form, she was terminated after refusing to get the vaccine, even after her physician recommended that she receive it. The plaintiff sued Cedars in January 2018. At trial, Cedars moved for summary judgement, and the court granted the motion.

The Court’s Decision

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that she was (1) there was direct evidence of a prohibitive motive in her termination, (2) that she was discriminated against due to mental and physical disability, and (3) that the flu vaccine was a pretext to discriminate against her. The appellate court disputed her first claim, stating that while the plaintiff characterized the policy as forcing her termination, she was not incapable of getting the vaccine. Further, the court found that the plaintiff’s second claim did not have merit. The court stated that there was no triable issue of fact as to physical disability discrimination based on the plaintiff’s description of her circumstances. Finally, they disagreed with her third claim, finding no pretext by Cedars. The appellate court affirmed the lower court decision, upholding the summary judgment ruling.

Do You Need a California Employment Law Attorney?

Do you have claims against your employer but worry you signed away your right to sue or don’t have a strong enough case? Your claims may still be valid. Contact a California employment lawyer to discuss your situation. The attorneys at The Nourmand Law Firm will review every possible avenue for recovery. For a free, no-obligation consultation with a California employment law attorney, call us today at 310-553-3600.

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