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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express: FEHA Requires Reasonable Accommodation of Employee's Need to Adjust Schedule to Care for Disabled Minor Child

In Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (Cal.App. 4/4/16), the plaintiff sued his former employer, DHE, alleging disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Plaintiff, a truck driver, alleged as follows: 
Plaintiff’s son requires daily dialysis, and according to the evidence, plaintiff must be the one to administer the dialysis. For several years, plaintiff’s supervisors scheduled him so that he could be home at night for his son’s dialysis. That schedule accommodation changed when a new supervisor took over and ultimately terminated plaintiff for refusing to work a shift that did not permit him to be home in time for his son’s dialysis. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiff’s motion to tax costs.
The Court of Appeal reversed, holding as follows: 

The trial court erred in summarily adjudicating the disability discrimination cause of action. On an issue of first impression, employers have a duty under FEHA to provide reasonable accommodations to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person. Association with a disabled person constitutes a disability under Government Code section 12926(o). Less stringent standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act do not control and should be distinguished. Rope v. Auto-Clor System of Washington, Inc. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 635 (discussed here and here) also should be distinguished because it relied on a gender and race discrimination case for its statement of the elements of a FEHA case, rather than a disability discrimination cause of action. 

On standards for discriminatory motive and pretext, Rope again is distinguishable because it relied on authority under the ADA, rather than the FEHA. Under the facts here, a jury could infer reasonably that plaintiff's association with his son was a substantial motivating factor in the decision to terminate and that DHE's reason for termination was pretextual. 

The trial court also erred in summarily adjudicating the disability discrimination cause of action. The law does not require employees to state that an employer's conduct constitutes discrimination or violates the FEHA. Employees need not use any legal terms or buzz words. Evidence that plaintiff complained to his supervisor -- and his supervisor -- about changes to his schedule and his need to give his son dialysis constituted opposition to the denial of a reasonable accommodation, a practice forbidden under the FEHA. 

The evidence also would permit a trier of fact to infer a causal link between plaintiff’s complaints and his termination. The temporal proximity between the two were enough to permit a trier of fact to infer causation. Rope is no longer good authority on this issue under amended section 12940(m)(2) (discussed here). 

The court erred in summarily adjudicating plaintiff's failure to prevent discrimination and wrongful termination causes of action for the reasons stated above. 

Because the trial court should not have granted DHE's motion, it also should not have denied plaintiff's motion to tax costs. 

Plaintiff was entitled to recover his costs on appeal. 

The opinion is available here.  

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