Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Filed by School Teacher Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

In Swanson v. Morongo Unified School Dist., 2014 WL 7399317 (Cal. Ct. App. 2014), Lauralyn Swanson, schoolteacher for the Yucca Valley Elementary School, sued for discrimination based on medical condition. Swanson claims that after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy the district’s board of education voted against renewing Swanson’s teaching contract. She alleged a denial of reasonable accommodation and a refusal to engage in the interactive process.

While the trial court initially granted the Morongo Unified School District’s motion for summary judgment, the decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal, holding that there were triable issues of fact regarding claims made by Swanson in the suit. Specific triable issues of fact included evidence that after Swanson provided the school district with information regarding her condition and took a medical leave in order to receive proper medical treatment, the district put in place a course of conduct that was specifically designed to set Swanson up to fail with difficult assignments and a lack of appropriate resources. When she failed to successfully fulfill the impossible requirements, the district later used Swanson’s performance as an excuse for their decision not to renew her teaching contract. 

The Court also decided that the school district failed to meet its burden to negate an essential element of Swanson’s failure to accommodate claim. They didn’t present appropriate evidence exhibiting that a second grade position was not available or proof that it was not a reasonable accommodation/that the alternate positions offered to Swanson were reasonable allowing her to perform the necessary job functions to succeed. It was also held that the district failed to provide any proof that they engaged in appropriate dialogue with Swanson as required by the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

If you would like to discuss workplace discrimination based on medical condition, please get in touch immediately. Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik are the southern California employment law experts and can help you reach a resolution.