Disabling Employers’ From Breaking the Law: Disability Discrimination in the Workplace and Rodriguez v. Valley Vista Services Inc.

California law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of a physical disability, mentally disability, or medical condition. Under the law, a mental disability include any mental or psychological disorder including, but not limited to, emotional or mental illness, clinical depression, and bipolar disorder. Thus, a California employer may not base the following employment decision’s on a person’s mental disability: refuse to hire the person, fire the person from employment, or discriminate against the persons in the amount of compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

In Rodriguez v. Valley Vista Services Inc., plaintiff requested to take a leave of absence and reasonable accommodations as she was suffering from a mental disability in the form of severe panic attacks. She was placed on leave of absence by her doctor. Oddly enough, plaintiff was terminated within one month of requesting leave of absence and reasonable accommodations. After being a model employee for the defendant for roughly seven years, plaintiff was terminated from employment allegedly due to “job abandonment.” Plaintiff subsequently sued her former employer and brought causes of action for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, retaliation and wrongful termination among other things.

Defendants argued that plaintiff used company e-mail to promote her babysitting gig, and that she failed to report to work for a week and refused to contact her employer thereby causing her to be terminated. Yet, the jury did not buy defendants’ arguments. After a deliberation time of three days, the jury returned a stunning verdict of $21.8 million in favor of the plaintiff.

At the end of the day, a verdict this large reaffirms California employees’ rights in the workplace. Such a large figure sends a message to employers to do what they should be doing all along: abide by the law. If you have a mental or physical disability, or a medical condition, and your employer will not reasonably accommodate you, or your believe your employer has terminated, demoted, or cut your benefits due to your disability, contact a lawyer immediately.

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