The Plaintiff’s Burden of Providing Evidence in Disability Discrimination Claims

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.

The Act permits an employer to discharge a disabled employee who, “because of a physical or mental disability, is unable to perform the employee’s essential duties even with reasonable accommodations, or cannot perform those duties in a manner that would not endanger the employee’s health or safety or the health and safety of others even with reasonable accommodations.” Unfortunately, this means that the plaintiff or employee bears the burden of proving that he or she was able to do the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.

This case illustrates the importance of a plaintiff being certain to introduce evidence showing that he or she was qualified to perform the essential functions of the position from which they were terminated. Because laws like the Fair Employment and Housing Act can be complex, and because bringing employment lawsuits can be equally, if not more, tricky, it can be helpful to connect with an experienced employment attorney in your area.

Do You Need a California Employment Law Attorney?

If you have suffered disability discrimination from an employer, you may be entitled to relief. Contact an experienced California employment lawyer to discuss your case. Our attorneys at The Nourmand Law Firm will help present the evidence you need to make the strongest possible claim. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, contact us at 310-553-3600 today.

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