A petition filed by Stanislaus County requesting a review of Deputy Dennis Wallace’s disability discrimination case was declined. Deputy Wallace was seeking $468,000 after the county placed him on unpaid leave for two years post-injury. Wallace claims that the county placed him on leave due to an inaccurate assessment of his ability to perform his duties as bailiff (even with reasonable accommodation provided). In a 2012 trial the case ended with a hung jury. The deputy lost the discrimination case after a jury heard it in 2013, but the state appeals court overturned the jury verdict in February.
After the appeals court’s decision, the county argued that the state’s highest court review the ruling as the decision would make it easier for disabled or injured workers to prove claims of discrimination against their employers. When their petition for review was declined, the county saw it as a big disappointment. They were equally disappointed that the appellate court did not allow the jury to come to the final decision regarding whether or not the county behaved in a discriminatory manner towards the deputy.
The appeals court determined that the superior court judge was in error when he advised the jury that Wallace was required to prove that the county was biased against disabled employees. They remanded the case back to superior court asking them to set the amount of damages owed Wallace for a specified time period: January 5th, 2011 through January 30th, 2013. It was further decided that any financial consequences due to an employer’s mistaken assumption or conclusion that an employee is unable to perform job duties safely should be the responsibility of the employer – not the employee. They noted that this would hold true even in cases where the employer’s mistake was made in good faith. Due to the prejudicial nature of the “instructional error” involved, they remanded the disability discrimination claim for retrial.
The rejection of the case review by the California Supreme Court means that the county can be held to a new, strict liability standard that, prior to the appellate court decision on the Wallace case, did not exist.
If you are interested in hearing more information disability discrimination or if you need assistance with a disability discrimination claim, please contact one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.