Employers Accused of Discrimination Gain CA Victory

August 27, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that employers do not have to prove that a disabled employee is unqualified to perform his or her job.

In a 4-3 decision overturning an appellate ruling, the court said that plaintiffs claiming discrimination carry the burden of proof. The court said that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act requires that the employees demonstrate they are qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.  

Dwight D. Green, a stationary engineer for the state Department of Correction at the California Institute for Men, came back to work in 2000 following a work-related injury. The institute’s work coordinator came across a 1997 doctor’s report that followed Green’s treatment for hepatitis, recommending him for light duty only.

Green went to the work coordinator’s office that same day complaining of fatigue because of the hepatitis; however, she said that he could not return until he was cleared for full duty. She later sent him a letter telling him he could not return to his position unless he could be cleared for full duty.

Green filed a disability discrimination claim with the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing after his second request for partial duty was turned down. He also filed a suit in state superior court.

The trial court awarded Green $597,000 in economic damages and $2 million in punitive damages, saying that he did not have to prove he was qualified for his position. An appellate court said that it is the defendant’s duty to establish a plaintiff is incapable of performing his essential duties without accommodations.

The full opinion inGreen v. State of California 8/23/07 SC is here .