California Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Yields $4.8M Verdict

A jury in Los Angeles awarded a former police officer in South Pasedena $4.8 million following a two-week trial involving allegations of wrongful termination and disability discrimination.disability discrimination

The Los Angeles Times reported the 18-year veteran on the force was fired for alleged dishonesty, but jurors agreed with him that the true reason was his diagnosis of attention-deficit/ hyperactive disorder (ADHD). The former chief of police (who retired prior to plaintiff’s termination) described plaintiff not only as a good man, but as the “best” on the force when it came to community policing.  However, the chief said the city refused to allow plaintiff reasonable accommodations when it came to the challenges he faced when writing reports due to his condition. The former top cop also testified his replacement in that role was supportive of the recommendation made by a captain on the force who had been campaigning to have plaintiff fired.

The California Department of Fair Housing and Employment states in 2CCR Section 11065 that the term “disability” as it relates to employees is intended to be broadly construed, and can mean mental disabilities (including conditions like autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders and PTSD), physical disabilities that limit major life activities or impact one or more major body systems. It can also mean conditions like blindness, deafness, partially or wholly missing limbs, mobility impairments, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, diabetes and other conditions. The list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but but it does exclude conditions like substance abuse disorders, gambling, sexual behavior disorders or mild conditions like sprains, strains, the flue, etc. One can also be protected from having “perceived disability,” meaning the worker is regarded or treated as having a mental or physical condition or adverse genetic information.

As our disability discrimination attorneys know, state law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers or applicants who have a disability, unless doing so would result in an “undue hardship” – either expense or significant difficulty – for the employer.

In this case, the formal reason the city provided for plaintiff’s termination occurred in 2012, when he did not issue a citation for an allegedly speeding driver. Plaintiff said he left the driver when he took note of shadowy figures at the middle school just across the street. The following day, the motorist he’d stopped reported to the police station, saying he thought he might have fled an officer. As it turned out, the driver had been involved in a hit-and-run crash just prior to that stop. Plaintiff said he did not notice the damage on the front of the vehicle. He also gave two slightly differing statements over the course of two investigatory interviews, in one saying he had not traveled beyond the back bumper of the vehicle, and in another saying he had not traveled beyond the back quarter panel.

The former chief determined there was no evidence to support a claim of dishonesty, but once he retired, his replacement almost immediately reopened the investigation – despite the fact that the one-year statute of limitations, as outlined in the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights. Although the time limit can be extended with new evidence, none was presented to justify an extension in this matter. He was accused of dishonesty and fired.

During trial, reportedly withdrew its expert witnesses and city employees after a human resources department head contradicted herself on a number of occasions while testifying.

The city offered plaintiff $25,000 to settle, which he declined – a decision that proved a smart one, given the jury’s final verdict. The amount was in consideration of the fact the officer’s career was essentially permanently derailed. Police officers accused of dishonesty would have a very difficult time obtaining gainful employment in that role.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Jury awards former South Pasadena police officer $4.8 million in disability discrimination case, Oct. 6, 2017, By Doug Smith, The Los Angeles Times

More Blog Entries:

EEOC: Drilling Company Committed Age Discrimination, Disability Discrimination in Hiring, Sept. 8, 2017, L.A. Disability Discrimination Lawyer Blog