In a recent California Court of Appeals case decided in February 2023, the court’s decision illuminates the burden that employees bear, specifically employees who are bringing disability discrimination claims against their employers. In this case, a registered nurse’s employment was terminated by the County after the County determined that she was unable to perform the essential functions of her job after the nurse sought to return to her position under new restrictions after an absence. The County also decided that an accommodation was not possible. The nurse filed a lawsuit against the county on various claims of disability discrimination, in addition to a retaliation claim.
A closer look at the details of the case reveals that the plaintiff, a registered nurse, suffered an injury while pushing a patient on a gurney. The nurse did not immediately report the work incident, hoping her injury would improve, but once she realized that it was not improving, she sought medical treatment. After her healthcare provider indicated that she should be placed in a sit-down job that required no standing, the County employer accommodated the work restrictions. Before the lawsuit, multiple incidents occurred, including the County determining that the nurse could not perform her essential job functions. Ultimately, the nurse decided to file a lawsuit against the County.
The lower trial court ruled in favor of the County, finding that the plaintiff failed to present evidence of discrimination, and the plaintiff filed an appeal. The appellate court ultimately agreed with the lower court’s ruling, finding that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence. In the opinion, the appellate court lays out the elements required to establish disability discrimination under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Under the Act, a plaintiff is required to present evidence that he or she (1) suffers from a disability, (2) is a qualified individual, and (3) was subjected to an adverse employment action because of the disability.