LA Police Dept. Confuses Work Comp and ADA and Appeal Court Upholds $1.5M Verdict as a Result
This is a classic “trap” case. A guy gets injured and is claimed 100% disabled. He cannot go back to his regular job as a police officer…but…and it’s a $1.5 million but…he could be accommodated under the ADA to do a light duty position as an accommodation.
Here’s the paragraph that says it all:
“The more persuasive evidence suggested that Lindsay was more focused on the workers compensation administrator’s concern about re-employing Plaintiff than on any medical restrictions per se. Cambridge Associates—a third party workers compensation claims administrator recently hired by the City for its expertise in managing workers compensation cases—instigated the decision to send Plaintiff home because of its concern that the City could not place someone in the workplace who, for purposes of workers compensation, was “100% disabled.” There is a strong inference that Lindsay and others involved in the decision deferred to Cambridge’s presumed expertise, not realizing that having already placed Plaintiff into the “light duty” assignment, the City had an independent duty to comply with FEHA.”
In ruling it concluded:
“The court finds that the City is liable for disability discrimination based on adverse employment action. In May 2003, it maintained several permanent “light duty” assignments and filled the assignment with sworn officers whose disabilities prevented them from performing the otherwise essential functions of a sworn police officer. The City placed Plaintiff into one of these assignments. Although Plaintiff was able to perform the essential functions of this “light duty” assignment, Plaintiff’s supervisors decided to “send him home” after learning, from the City’s worker’s compensation administrator, that he was “100% disabled.” The City’s decision to send him home was an adverse employment action based on discriminatory criteria. At trial, the City failed to prove any legitimate nondiscriminatory basis for terminating his employment, and is therefore liable for discrimination.
“The court also finds that the City is liable for failure to engage in an interactive process or to otherwise accommodate Plaintiff’s disability. After years of workers compensation litigation, the City had extensive knowledge about Plaintiff’s past disabilities. The City’s decision to bring him back to work notwithstanding its pre-existing knowledge of his disabilities was sufficient to shift the burden of proof and require the City to demonstrate that it engaged in meaningful dialogue with Plaintiff and made reasonable accommodations. Instead of engaging in a dialogue, the City summarily instructed him to leave the workplace and is therefore liable.”
Employer Lesson: Remember, The ADA and often FMLA run concurrently with Work Comp return to work issues. The failure reasonably to accommodate a disability the question is whether the employee can perform the essential functions of the position to which reassignment is sought, rather than the essential functions of the existing position.
To read this instructional case go to http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B224303.PDF