LCW Partner Geoff Sheldon And Associate Alex Wong Win Dismissal Of Police Officer’s Disability Discrimination Claims

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: May 04, 2023

A probationary police officer sued for disability discrimination, retaliation, and failure to accommodate.  The case arose after the officer was injured while responding to a call for service.  The officer’s doctor initially prescribed work restrictions that included, among other things, no standing, walking, or sitting more than 20 cumulative minutes per hour, and no lifting more than five pounds.  The officer also needed to lay down a minimum of 20 minutes per hour.  If those accommodations could not be provided, he was deemed temporarily totally disabled.  The city granted his requests for temporary total disability leave.  The officer filed a worker’s compensation claim as well.

Later, the city discovered that the officer was quite physically active even while “temporarily totally disabled,” and the city reported this information to its third-party administrator.  An investigation conducted by the third-party administrator included a sub-rosa video which showed that the officer was carrying several heavy items, lifting and carrying tables, walking without using crutches, entering and exiting vehicles without hesitation, providing support for a person above his shoulders so that person could reach a basketball rim, and even scaling a fence four separate times to hang a sign.

The officer was eventually cleared to return to modified work with no contact with the public.  The city determined that it could not accommodate the restriction of no contact with the public and advised the officer.  The officer then returned to his doctor for reevaluation and was cleared to work as a police officer without any restrictions.

The chief released the officer from probation after reviewing the evidence of suspected worker’s compensation fraud.  The officer responded by filing the claims noted above in the California Superior Court.

The court granted the city’s motion for summary judgment on all counts.  First, with respect to disability discrimination and retaliation, the court found that the city had a legitimate business reason for releasing the officer from probation.  Second, because the officer’s claims of discrimination and retaliation failed, his claims for failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation also failed.

Finally, the court found that the city appropriately accommodated the officer through a good faith interactive process.  The city initially granted the officer paid temporary disability leave, and later reviewed available desk assignments for positions that complied with his work restrictions.  Because an employer has no affirmative duty to create a new position to accommodate a disabled employee, the court dismissed this claim as well.

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