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California Appeals Court Rules History of Accommodation Not a Legal Shield for Employer

October 16, 2009
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Despite a lengthy pattern of accommodating a disabled employee, a single failure to accommodate the worker violated California’s anti-discrimination law, a state appeals court ruled in a decision published Thursday, October 15.

Court records in A.M. v. Albertsons L.L.C. show a grocery store checker sued Albertsons in 2006 for a failure to accommodate her disability. She later amended her complaint to allege a violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. In 2008, a jury found the retail grocer failed to accommodate and awarded the plaintiff $200,000.

Five years earlier, the employee underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer. The treatment affected her salivary glands, causing her to drink large volumes of water and urinate frequently, court records show.

Among other measures, Albertsons accommodated her during several months by allowing her to keep water at her work station despite a prohibition against it, and managers covered for her when she needed a bathroom break.

In 2005, a new supervisor began working at the store.

The supervisor was unfamiliar with the employee’s disability and failed to cover for her despite several desperate requests to leave her station, court records show. Unable to control herself, the worker urinated while standing at the register, court records show. As a result, she became withdrawn and suffered from depression, among other problems.

Albertsons argued that its 2005 failure to accommodate was trivial because it constituted a single incident in the context of a much greater period of successful accommodation beginning in 2004. But the appeals court called that interpretation inconsistent with FEHA because the statute “does not speak of a pattern of failure.”

“As is demonstrated by [this case], a single failure to make reasonable accommodation can have tragic consequences for an employee who is not accommodated,” the court ruled.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision.


Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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