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Disability Discrimination Results in Large Verdict

As one of California’s statewide employee-only law firms, Stephen Danz is always pleased to report a victory by our partners in the representation of California’s employees. Today, a verdict was reached in excess of one million dollars in a case against DIRECT TV. In this case, the plaintiff-former employee had an eye disease known as Central Serous Retinopathy. She needed easily-provided help in reading traffic reports, which without the proper vision aids, appeared blurry in the center of the charts she needed to read. Reading like a textbook of our common causes of action, she sued for discrimination due to disability (eyesight), failure to provide reasonable accommodation, failure to engage in the interactive process, retaliation and failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation, employment discrimination, based on age, wrongful termination in violation of public policy and numerous violations of the California Labor Code and Unfair Business Practices Act. These causes of action require the exhaustion of “administrative remedies” with the proper state agency, in this case the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Labor Code violations do not always require exhaustion with the Labor Commissioner, so expert guidance is needed in that regard.

Plaintiff had witnessed a pervasive and salacious fraternity culture among younger female employees; reported time card fraud. Due to these complaints, she was demoted to a different department for a new job, as a Traffic Specialist, required her to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately, she was not paid for all the time that she worked. In 2008 she began to lose vision in her left eye and asked for accommodation. Instead, the HR folks gave her a warning about poor performance.

Defendants have appealed, claiming that their “mixed-motive” defense controls. Recently, the California Supreme Court decided Harris vs. City of Santa Monica, which established the rule of “substantial motivating factor” in winning a discrimination claim. It is not clear whether the City has laid the proper groundwork to raise this defense.

We congratulate our fellow plaintiff attorneys B. Alexander and S. Sampath for this wonderful verdict and wish them luck on appeal. This was a fascinating case on showing the jury how the eye accommodation could have been achieved. The attorneys also demonstrated through their experts how the plaintiff’s vision could have been improved and thus any minor mistakes made, eliminated.

Danz and Associates routinely represent employees in all areas of discrimination, failure to accommodate, retaliation, failure to engage in the interactive dialog and age, wrongful termination, and the California Labor Code. This case proves that just one factual setting can give rise to numerous causes of action.