Employment Law — Mental Disability
Posted in Wrongful Termination on October 15, 2015
Higgins-Williams v. Sutter Medical Foundation (Third District, May 26, 2015) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 15 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 5245, 2015 Daily Journal D.A.R. 5740
A woman who worked as a medical clinical assistant performing patient intakes filed an action against her employer, asserting causes of action for disability discrimination and wrongful termination. The plaintiff alleged that she had been diagnosed as suffering from adjustment disorder with anxiety, as a result of being stressed because of interactions at work with human resources and her manager. The plaintiff further alleged that she had been terminated during a leave of absence while undergoing a regimen of psychotherapy and medications related to her alleged disability.
The trial court granted summary judgment and the court of appeal affirmed, holding that the undisputed facts showed that the plaintiff was not disabled, in that her alleged disability—an inability to work under a particular supervisor because of anxiety and stress related to the supervisor’s standard oversight of job performance—is not a disability recognized in California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA; Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.):
To establish a prima facie case of mental disability discrimination under FEHA, a plaintiff must show the following elements: (1) She suffers from a mental disability; (2) she is otherwise qualified to do the job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) she was subjected to an adverse employment action because of the disability. …
An employee’s inability to work under a particular supervisor because of anxiety and stress related to the supervisor’s standard oversight of the employee’s job performance does not constitute a disability under FEHA. (Hobson v. Raychem Corp. (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 614, 628, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 497 (Hobson ) [“the inability to perform one particular job, or to work under a particular supervisor, does not constitute a qualified disability” under FEHA (italics added) ] …
As set forth above in the undisputed facts of the Factual and Procedural Background, plaintiff and her treating physician, Dr. Chen, acknowledged on several occasions, both directly and through requests for a transfer from the Shared Services Department, that plaintiff was unable to work under her regional manager Perry or her supervisor Prince because of anxiety and stress related to their standard oversight of plaintiff’s job performance; Dr. Chen diagnosed plaintiff as having adjustment disorder with anxiety, and reported plaintiff’s disabling condition as “ ‘stress[ ] when dealing with her Human Resources and her manager.’ ” This is precisely “the inability … to work under a particular supervisor” that Hobson says does not rise to a FEHA-recognized disability. (Hobson, supra, 73 Cal.App.4th at p. 628, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 497.)
Admittedly, plaintiff is correct that Hobson has been disapproved on one point and questioned on another.…
What no decision has disapproved or questioned, however, is the Hobson point directly on point here—i.e., that an employee’s inability to work under a particular supervisor because of anxiety and stress related to the supervisor’s standard oversight of the employee’s job performance does not constitute a mental disability under FEHA.