Office assistant says school district did not accommodate her disability after she suffered a fall while at work.
- Case Name: Ana Torres v. Montebello Unified School District
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / 20STCV07153
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, September 29, 2022
- Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, February 26, 2020
- Type of Case: Employment
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Michelle Court
Plaintiffs: Ana Torres, 65
Defendants: Montebello Unified School District
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: Defense verdict
Award as to each Defendant:
The jury returned a defense verdict on all causes of action.
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 8 days
- Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day
- Jury Polls: Varied on causes of action.
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Mathews Law Group by Charles T. Mathews, Arcadia.
Sottile Baltaxe by Timothy Sottile, Agoura Hills.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Fozi Dwork & Modafferi, LLP by Golnar Fozi and Jeremy Dwork, Carlsbad.
Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Robert Spencer, DPM, podiatry.
Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Karen Smith, economics.
Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
Plaintiff was an office assistant at Montebello High School. Her job duties consisted of answering phones, taking messages, helping register students, writing dismissal slips, answering questions, making copies, entering data on the computer, assisting the nutrition staff with lunch applications, collecting books from students.
In November 2012, plaintiff fell while at work, injuring her knee, shoulder, wrist, thigh and groin. She received medical treatment through the workers' compensation program. In May 2014, plaintiff reported to the school principal that while using the computer mouse, her index and middle fingers of her right hand got stuck in a fixed position. She was instructed to get medical treatment right away through workers' compensation. Starting the middle of 2014, plaintiff produced a series of notes from her doctors asking the district to provide her with certain accommodations while she was getting treated. The doctors’ notes indicated that if those accommodations could not be reasonably granted, then the district should put her on medical leave.
The restrictions began with no more than 20 minutes of keyboard or computer mouse use per hour, and no gripping or grasping more than 20 cumulative minutes per hour; no pushing or pulling more than 10 lbs. The district accommodated these restrictions so she could keep working and not be placed on an unpaid medical leave. The district bought plaintiff assistive devices and allowed her to organize her duties so that she would not exceed 20 minutes of keyboard and computer work, gripping or grasping with her hands. Plaintiff’s treatment continued into the 2018 academic year. She was not getting better. Plaintiff was absent from work more days than she worked in July, August and September 2018. When she did come to work, she had to self-limit her work so she did not type or use the computer or grip or grasp anything more than 20 minutes an hour, or push or pull anything more than 5 pounds.
Plaintiff was absent from work most of October 2018 due to pain and medical appointments. In November 2018, plaintiff came to work but on the very next day she fell in the cafeteria and had to be taken to the doctor. She missed work most of November. When she came to work in December, her restrictions were “no standing or walking at work.” She had to be in a seated position and wear knee and arm braces. The district accommodated these restrictions. Later that month, an additional restriction: Plaintiff had to keep her leg elevated while working. The district accommodated that restriction.
Plaintiff was absent from work almost all of January. She came to work on January 25 with a new doctor’s note. This time, the doctor’s note provided: “No typing and no filing over 20 minutes. No repetitive work of any kind for over 20 minutes.” Dr. Spencer, the physician who provided this January 25th note testified at trial that as of January 25, 2019, plaintiff reported extreme pain and difficulty in closing her hands or touching her fingers together. On January 25, 2019, the district informed plaintiff that they could not accommodate these latest restrictions as she could not discharge the essential functions of her position given these restrictions. She was placed on medical leave effective January 25, 2019. She ran out of all paid leave and 100 days of differential pay by the end of June 2019, after which she was placed on the 39-month rehire calendar.
Plaintiff never looked for another position or opening at the district, and she never applied for a job anywhere else. In 2021, she filed for retirement and retired from employment. Plaintiff sued the district, alleging disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, failure to engage in a good-faith interactive process, failure to prevent discrimination, and retaliation. By the time of trial, plaintiff had dismissed two causes of action. The matter went to jury on Disability Discrimination; Failure to Accommodate; and Retaliation.
Disability discrimination; failure to accommodate; and retaliation.
Dr. Spencer testified directly that plaintiff COULD return to work with the same minimal restrictions that she had been given for the last several years. Plaintiff testified and proved that she had looked for jobs with no success. She was forced to retire because at her age with a disability that her own school district said they could not accommodate, she believed she had no chance of being hired anywhere else.
Plaintiff was an office assistant at one of the schools of the Montebello Unified School District. In 2014, she reported pain and stiffness in her hands and received extensive treatment through workers compensation for the next 4.5 years. Her condition did not improve, to the point that her work restrictions were not more than 20 minutes per hour of tying or filing; gripping or grabbing anything with her hands; no lifting pushing or pulling anything that weighed more than 5 pounds; and no repetitive work with her hands. The district accommodated plaintiff’s restrictions for 4.5 years before concluding that plaintiff was unable to perform the essential functions of her position. Plaintiff was placed on a medical leave of absence pending a change in her restrictions. Plaintiff ran out of all paid leave by the end of June 2019. She never returned to work, and never applied for any other position at the district. She filed for retirement in 2021.
Injuries and Other Damages
Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Emotional distress damages relating to the separation from employment.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $130,000
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $230,000
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $1,500,000
- Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $75,000