New CA Case Holds That Employer Should Have Accommodated Employee’s Scheduling Needs So That He Could Care For His Disabled Son

Does an employer need to reasonably accommodate an employee’s shift scheduling requirements to enable the employee to tend to the medical needs of his son?  The court in Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., 2 Cal. App. 5th 1028 (Aug. 29, 2016), answered that question “yes.”

In this case, the plaintiff had informed his manager upon hire that he had daily obligations at home related to administering dialysis to his son that required him to end his shifts by 7 or 8 p.m.  For years, his manager accommodated this scheduling limitation and scheduled plaintiff accordingly.  But then a new manager came on board, nicknamed “Junior,” and Junior refused to accommodate plaintiff’s scheduling needs.  On one occasion, Junior assigned plaintiff a schedule that would have prevented him from returning home in time to administer his son’s treatment.  The plaintiff requested an earlier schedule or, alternatively, the day off, but Junior stated that if he did not work the assigned schedule, he would be fired.  The plaintiff said he was sorry but could not work the schedule.  Junior then fired him.

Although the trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, the appellate court reversed, finding that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act creates an affirmative duty for employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee who is “associated with” a disabled person.  Specifically, the court held that the evidence demonstrated that plaintiff’s association with his disabled son was a substantial motivating factor in Junior’s decision to terminate him and that a reasonable inference from the facts presented to the court is that “Junior, as the person responsible for scheduling the drivers, wanted to avoid the inconvenience and distraction plaintiff’s need to care for his disabled son posed to [him].  Thus, Junior engineered a situation in which plaintiff would refuse to work the shift, giving Junior reason to terminate him. In other words, plaintiff’s termination for refusal to work the shift was a pretext for Junior’s desire to be rid of someone whose disabled associate made Junior’s job harder.”

The Fair Employment and Housing Act applies to employers with five or more employees.  As a result, this case underscores an important obligation applicable to many California employers.  Fundamentally, this case makes clear that employers must take seriously employees’ requests for accommodations due to the medical needs of not only themselves but also their family members.  Supervisors and human resources personnel should be trained to be aware that such requests should be carefully evaluated to avoid exposing the employer to disability discrimination claims.

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The above summary has been prepared for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.  

Bernstein & Friedland, P.C. is a boutique employment law firm in Los Angeles specializing in wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and unpaid wage and overtime matters.  Please visit our website at www.laemploymentcounsel.com to learn more about us.

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