Category: Disability Discrimination

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 11 percent of Americans ages 20 and older suffer from some form of “visual impairment.” When a visual disability affects your ability to work, your employer must offer you “reasonable and necessary” accommodations. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers to engage in a good faith “interactive process” with a disabled employee in order to determine what accommodations are appropriate in a given situation.

Visually Impaired Employee Receives $1.1 Million for Disability Discrimination

There may be cases where an employer initially attempts to offer reasonable accommodations yet fails to fully engage in the “interactive process” mandated by FEHA. That is, an employer may be liable for disability discrimination if it only makes a partial accommodation or fails to inquire about the disabled employee’s additional needs. A recent case from here in California illustrates how such a situation can arise.

The plaintiff in this case worked for a well-known broadcasting company. Approximately 10 years into her tenure with the company, the plaintiff was diagnosed with central serous retinopathy, a serious eye impairment that causes a “portion of the visual field to appear smudged or wavy [] making it difficult to distinguish small letters and numbers.”

After receiving this diagnosis, the plaintiff informed her supervisors that she required special accommodations to perform her job, such as a larger computer monitor, better lighting, and a quieter workspace. The plaintiff said the employer did not respond to these requests for well over a year. It was not until she provided her supervisors with a doctor’s note that they made any effort to accommodate her. And even then, it was insufficient. The employer eventually fired the plaintiff rather than provide additional accommodations.

The plaintiff subsequently sued the employer for disability discrimination under the FEHA. A California jury returned a special verdict holding the employer liable for discrimination and “failure to engage in the interactive process,” but not for “failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.” The jury awarded the plaintiff damages of just over $1.1 million.

On appeal, the employer argued the jury’s verdict contradicted itself: That is, the company could not be liable for failure to engage in the interactive process when it was not found liable for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation. The California Second District Court of Appeal disagreed.

It held the jury was entitled to find, based on the evidence presented, that “the accommodations [the employer] provided were not successful, and a further interactive process to determine additional accommodations was foreclosed by plaintiff’s termination.” Even if the company made some efforts to accommodate the plaintiff’s disability, its failure to make further accommodations still constituted illegal disability discrimination.

Get Help From a California Disability Discrimination Attorney

The law is clear in California: An employer cannot fire you because you have a disability. Nor may an employer fire you because it is unwilling to accommodate your disability.

If you have lost your job due to such illegal tactics, it is important you speak with a San Jose employment discrimination lawyer right away. Contact the Briski Law Firm if you require immediate legal assistance.