In Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc., — Cal. App. — (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Feb. 21, 2013), the California Court of Appeals for the Second District held that California employers’ obligations as to employees requiring medical leaves of absence caused by pregnancy-related disabilities do not end at allowing a four-month leave of absence–and can instead include permitting employees suffering from pregnancy-related disabilities significantly more leave time.
In this case, in February 2009, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy requiring bed rest. The employer was on notice that the plaintiff was slated to deliver her baby in or about October 2009 and that she needed a leave of absence lasting until the date on which she gave birth. The company permitted plaintiff to take the four months of leave mandated by the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law, which applies to all California employers with five or more employees, and also permitted plaintiff to take three weeks of leave consisting of her accrued, unused vacation. At the expiration of this leave, in July 2009, the company fired the plaintiff. The plaintiff thereafter sued for pregnancy and disability discrimination, among other claims.
The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging that because the company had allowed plaintiff to take all of the leave available to her under the PDLL, she was entitled to no more time off and the company did not need to retain her. The trial court granted the motion, but the appellate court reversed.
On appeal, the Court stated that the PDLL is meant to “augment, rather than supplant,” other remedies available under the FEHA. To this end, the Court underscored that while the plaintiff may have exhausted her four months of leave under the PDLL, the company was required by the FEHA’s anti-disability discrimination laws to engage in a good-faith interactive process with the plaintiff to determine whether it could reasonably accommodate her disability, including by allowing her to take limited additional leave. According to the Court, “[a]s the case law makes clear, disability leave may in some circumstances exceed four months.”
Consequently, the Court concluded that plaintiff had sufficiently pleaded facts to support each of the elements required for her claims to survive dismissal, and allowed her case to proceed.
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