Thursday, August 23, 2007

Big Disability Discrimination Decision for California Employers

On August 23, 2007, the California Supreme Court published an important decision in the case of Green v. State of California. The decision should be reviewed by any employer covered by California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

What'd they say? Rather than muddy the waters, I'll quote directly from the case:

"The FEHA prohibits discrimination against any person with a disability but, like the ADA, provides that the law allows the employer to discharge an employee with a physical disability when that employee is unable to perform the essential duties of the job even with reasonable accommodation. (§ 12940, subd. (a)(1); 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a).) After reviewing the statute's language, legislative intent, and well-settled law, we conclude the FEHA requires employees to prove that they are qualified individuals under the statute just as the federal ADA requires." (pp. 1-2)

"...we conclude that the Legislature has placed the burden on a plaintiff to show that he or she is a qualified individual under the FEHA (i.e., that he or she can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation)." (p. 5)

What does this mean? It means employers covered by FEHA can breathe a little easier, and employees bringing suit under FEHA for a disability claim may have a slightly more uphill battle. The court has now made clear that in these cases it is the plaintiff/employee who has the burden of showing they are "qualified" under FEHA, not the defendant/employer. And if the plaintiff can't satisfy this "prong" of their case, they won't win.

...unless this case is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court...

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