UPDATES FOR CALIFORNIA EMPLOYERS – APRIL 2016
TREATED AS HAVING A DISABILITY IN ORDER TO DISCRIMINATE
In Wallace v. County of Stanislaus, plaintiff was a sheriff’s deputy who sued the County of Stanislaus (the “County”) for disability discrimination after he was placed on unpaid leave of absence. The County argued that plaintiff could not safely perform his duties as a bailiff with or without accommodations. When giving jury instructions, the trial court included a requirement that plaintiff prove that the County regarded or treated him as “having a disability in order to discriminate.” The jury found that the County did not regard or treat plaintiff as disabled “in order to discriminate” and found against plaintiff. On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that a plaintiff who shows that his disability was a substantial motivating reason for the employer’s decision to subject the employer to an adverse employment action need not show any additional animus. The Court emphasized that the term "animus" is vague and should not be used in disability discrimination cases with "direct evidence that the employer’s motive for taking an adverse employment decision was the plaintiff’s actual or perceived disability." Since there was no dispute that the County's mistaken perception that plaintiff could not perform the essential functions of the job was a substantial motivating factor for its decision to place him on unpaid leave, the Court reversed and remanded for a limited trial regarding plaintiff’s economic and/or non-economic damages.
SETTLING PARTIES ARE FREE TO MAKE THEIR OWN ARRANGEMENTS REGARDING COSTS
In DeSaulles v. Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, plaintiff sued his employer for failure to accommodate disability and other causes of action. Subsequently, the parties settled the case, with the employer paying the plaintiff $23,500. The trial court found that the employer had obtained a dismissal, was the prevailing party, and was therefore entitled to recover its costs. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that when an employer pays an employee in settlement, the employee obtains a "net monetary recovery" and is the prevailing party under Code of Civil Procedure section 1032(a)(4). Accordingly, where the settlement agreement is silent as to the recovery of costs, the employee is entitled to recover his or her costs as a matter of right. The employer is not entitled to recover its costs, even though it obtained a judgment denying the plaintiff any relief, which ordinarily would make the defendant the prevailing party. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal’s decision in full, explaining “When a defendant pays money to a plaintiff in order to settle a case, the plaintiff obtains a ‘net monetary recovery,’ and a dismissal pursuant to such a settlement is not a dismissal ‘in [the defendant‘s] favor’ … this holding sets forth a default rule; settling parties are free to make their own arrangements regarding costs.”
NEW DFEH GUIDELINES REGARDING TRANSGENDER EMPLOYEES
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) recently issued guidelines on transgender employee rights. These guidelines address frequently asked questions regarding transgender employees in the workplace. The guidelines also address how employers can implement dress code and grooming standards, and make suggestions for maintaining employee restrooms. An employee need not have undergone sex reassignment surgery for these guidelines to apply, as the Fair Employment and Housing Act recognizes “gender expression” as “a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.” (Govt. Code section 12926(q).) Among other things, the DFEH guidelines state that: 1) Employers should avoid questions designed to determine a person’s sexual orientation and/or general identity during interviews; 2) Employers should apply dress codes in a manner that, for example, allows a transgender woman to dress and groom herself in accordance with the same standards that apply to the other women in the workplace; and 3) Employers must allow transgender employees to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.