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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lawler v. Montblanc: Ninth Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment in Disability Discrimination Case

In Lawler v. Montblanc North America, LLC, ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. 1/11/13) , the plaintiff filed suit against her employer and its president and CEO for disability discrimination, retaliation, and harassment under the FEHA, as well as common law intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding: 

The plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination because she was not "competently performing her position," i.e., she could not perform the essential duties of her position,  with or without reasonable accommodation. Slip op. at 12-14. 
Rather, she admitted that her disability makes it impossible for her to fulfill the duties of her position and that she has been unemployed since October 2009, has not applied for any positions, has made no effort to secure employment, and has exhausted her disability benefits. 
Slip op. at 13. 

The plaintiff's inability to perform the essential functions of her position constituted a legitimate reason for her termination, and the plaintiff failed to provide "specific and substantial" evidence that this reason was pretextual.  Accordingly, the plaintiff's retaliation cause of action failed.  Slip op. at 14-16. 

A single incident of “gruff,” “abrupt,” and “intimidating” behavior by the employer's CEO was not "sufficiently severe to constitute a hostile working environment," and the harassment cause of action failed.  Slip op. at 16-18. 

Finally, the CEO's “gruff,” “abrupt,” and “intimidating” conduct could not be characterized as exceeding all bounds of that tolerated in a civilized community, nor was her alleged emotional distress "severe," and her cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress failed.  

Interestingly, the plaintiff apparently did not allege failure to engage in the interactive process. See, e.g., Wysinger v. Automobile Club of Southern California (2007) 157 Cal. App. 4th 413.  I won't try to guess how the district court or Ninth Circuit would have ruled on such a claim. 

The opinion is available here.

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