The Court of Appeal found that an employee whose demotion was reversed on appeal, and who was unable to work due to a non-work related disability, was not entitled to immediate reinstatement and back pay. Ennis Davis was the director of the information systems branch of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Davis began experiencing chest pains, stomach pains, and other physical symptoms. In November 2001, after conducting an investigation based on an anonymous tip, the District presented Davis with a notice of unsatisfactory service and accused him of incompetence, inefficiency, and a number of other charges. On the same day, Davis saw his physician, who placed him on disability. Davis has been disabled since then and has not returned to work. The District eventually demoted him. In February 2003, after Davis exhausted his paid leave benefits, the District offered him unpaid leave, but Davis instead chose to separate from his employment and get placed on the reemployment list.
Davis appealed his demotion, and the District's Personnel Commission rescinded the demotion and restored Davis to his prior position effective as of the date of the demotion. The District paid Davis back pay consisting primarily of vacation pay that was based on his higher, predemotion rate of pay. The Commission later stated that Davis remained eligible for reinstatement to his prior position if he demonstrated at any time before May 9, 2006 that he was fit for duty by presenting medical clearance from his treating physician that he could return to work. Davis never provided any such documentation.
Davis filed a petition for a writ of mandate, alleging that he was entitled to: (1) immediate reinstatement notwithstanding his inability to return to work; and (2) full back pay from the date of the demotion based on his predemotion rate of pay. The trial court denied his petition and the Court of Appeal affirmed.
Davis argued that the Commission had to immediately reinstate him even though he was not medically able to work. He never sought to return to work or provided a date when he might like to return to work. The Commission provided that Davis could return to work if he submitted a physician's statement releasing him to return to work. The Commission was not required to grant Davis an indefinite leave of absence permitting him reintstatement whenever, if ever, he might recover from his nonindustrial illness. Reinstatement should only be ordered where the employee, returning to work, successfully performs all the required duties of his position with or without accommodation, notwithstanding any disability he might have. Here, Davis' failure to provide a medical release was the sole obstacle to his reinstatement and, without the release, Davis was not entitled to reinstatement.
Davis also argued that he was entitled to back pay. The Court of Appeal held that Davis's unavailability for work due to his nonindustrial illness justified the Commission's denial of full back pay. Unless the disability is the result of the employer's wrongful conduct, an employer is not liable for back pay during periods that an improperly discharged employee is unavailable for work due to a disability. Here, Davis commenced his disability leave of absence before he learned of the demotion, did not work during the demotion, and was medically unable to work in his prior position after the Commission upheld his appeal. His illness--not his demotion or employment--was the sole cause of his inability to work and, consequently, he was not entitled to back pay.