Psychiatrist claims ADHD, depression and does not receive accommodations at work. $1.6 million verdict. San Diego County

Mayfield Bustarde, LLP is pleased to announce that it secured a $1,624,320 1 jury verdict for the plaintiff in an employment discrimination case that went to trial in the Winter of 2014.  The 5 week jury trial took place in Department C-68, before the Honorable Judith F. Hayes, in the San Diego Superior Court.

Factual Background

Plaintiff worked as a Staff Psychiatrist for the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation ("CDCR"), at the Richard J. Donovan Facility located in San Diego County. Plaintiff, after working as a temporary employee, was hired as a full-time Staff Psychiatrist in August 2006.

In September 2011, at the end of a medical leave of absence, plaintiff disclosed that she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") and major depressive disorder and asked for workplace accommodations. She provided a list of suggested accommodations, including a quiet place to complete her paperwork.  CDCR did not provide the accommodations that plaintiff requested, and plaintiff did not return to work.

Two-and-a-half months after plaintiff made her request, CDCR held a meeting in which the hiring authority told plaintiff that she would not provide accommodations and advised that plaintiff had to decide whether or not she was going to return to work. Plaintiff's employment ultimately terminated based on the State's use of the AWOL procedure when plaintiff's doctor's note expired in May 2012.

Plaintiff's Contentions:

Plaintiff went to trial on 2 causes of action: (1) failure to provide reasonable accommodations under FEHA; and (2) failure to engage in good faith in the interactive process under FEHA.

Plaintiff claimed that in approximately 2010, the number of duties and amount of paperwork increased significantly for all of the psychiatrists at Donovan. In early 2011, plaintiff was transferred to the hospital unit within Donovan and was having difficulties keeping up with the workload.  Plaintiff contended that she was unable to keep up with her work load primarily due to the fact that she did not have an assigned office or other quiet workspace within the hospital unit.

Further, Plaintiff claimed she is disabled by her mental conditions and that some accommodations would allow her to perform the essential duties of her position. That there were multiple accommodations that CDCR could have considered and tried implementing, such as transfer to a different unit; converting a number of different rooms to an office space for all of the psychiatrists assigned to the hospital unit to use; providing additional computer training and additional clerical support to instruct plaintiff on non-clinical forms.

Plaintiff claimed that CDCR did not engage in the interactive process in good faith, did not consider any accommodations, did not discuss any possible accommodations with her, and in fact was merely counting down the days until it could terminate her employment.

Defendant's Contentions:

Defendant claimed that plaintiff does not have ADHD and is not disabled by either of her conditions; that plaintiff did not provide adequate medical information to allow defendant to determine whether plaintiff’s requested accommodations were related to a disability or needed to perform essential job functions; that defendant provided plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation by allowing her to take a leave of absence when she refused to return to work without her requested accommodations, and offered her a transfer to a different facility which she refused.

Defendant also claimed that it engaged in an eight-month long interactive process in good faith in an effort to determine whether a reasonable accommodation could be provided that would allow plaintiff to return to work, and that plaintiff’s employment terminated when she failed to update her leave status with Donovan after moving away to accept a new job.

Finally, defendant claimed that plaintiff was not entitled to future wages or retirement benefits because she was demonstrated to have lied on her application for employment to CDCR, which cut off her damages as of the date her lies were discovered pursuant to CDCR’s standard policy of terminating employees for dishonesty, and that plaintiff was also not entitled to any emotional distress damages because she admitted she suffered no emotional distress as a result of her job loss.

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1 The Court subsequently reduced the emotional distress portion of the damages, resulting in a total judgment of $1,414,320, plus costs.  The judgment has been appealed.