CA Appellate Judges Sanction Disabled Officer's Discharge

January 26, 2006 ( - A California state appellate court has ruled that a Golden State employer may discharge, or force the retirement of, an employee who was assigned to light duty due to a temporary disability that has become permanent.

Applying federal case law to a claim under the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the appellate court agreed with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Minning that the City of Burbank could legally force police officer Mark Raine to retire, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise reported.

Raine was a Burbank officer from 1981 to 2002. After 14 years of service on uniformed patrol, he was assigned as a school resource officer, which also includes patrol duties, but a week after taking up that assignment, he suffered an injury that limited his physical movement and resulted in his assignment to a headquarters desk job.

Raine’s physician told him in 2002 that the injury was permanent and that he would never be able to return to patrol. After engaging in the “interactive process” of consulting Raine and his immediate supervisor about his future with the department, city officials decided that there was no available position for an officer in his situation and he was placed on involuntarily retired status.

In its appeal, the police department noted that its desk is usually manned by civilian technicians, who receive less in pay and benefits than sworn officers. Officers are only assigned to the desk, the department said, as a form of light duty during temporary disability.

City officials also pointed out that they had accommodated Raine’s disability for six years, including two years that he was off work completely in order to undergo and then recover from various medical procedures. The only way that Raine could continue to work at the desk once his injuries became permanent, the department said, would be for him to leave the officer’s position, give up his retirement benefits, and become a civilian technician.

However, according to the court, Raine said that he did not want to give up his retirement benefits to take a civilian job.

Minning ruled that Raine was in effect asking the city to create a new position for him and that it was not required to do so under FEHA. Minning also rejected claims of retaliation and age discrimination and ruled for the city.

The case is Raine v. City of Burbank, 06 S.O.S. 329.