Employment arbitration award for failure to accommodate. $974K. Los Angeles County.
Paint store employee who cannot lift more than 20 pounds is terminated.
- Case Name: Carter v. Dunn Edwards
- Court and Case Number: LASC Case No. BC620114 compelled to JAMS Arbitration 1210033499
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, July 01, 2019
- Date of Arbitration Award : Monday, July 01, 2019
- Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, May 10, 2016
- Type of Case: Employment
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): John W. Kennedy
Plaintiffs: Elizabeth J. Carter
Defendants: Dunn-Edwards Corp.
- Type of Result: Arbitration Award
- Gross Verdict or Award: $974,219.74
- Net Verdict or Award: $974,219.74
Emotional distress: $70,000
Attorneys' fees: $830,525
Expert fees: $35,294.50
Prejudgment interest to date: $2,665.60
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 8 days.
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Yadegar, Minoofar & Soleymani, LLP by Navid Yadegar and Navid Soleymani, Los Angeles.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Hunton & Williams by Michele J. Beilke and Rafael N. Tumanyan, Los Angeles.
Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Anthony Reading, Ph.D., psychology.
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
On June 22, 2015, plaintiff was hired by Dunn Edwards (“DE”) as a Customer Service Lead (CSL) at its North Hollywood paint store. According to DE's job posting, the CSL "is responsible for providing superior customer service at the point of sale." CSLs were required to perform other jobs in the store, including lifting items weighing up to 72 pounds. On her written job application, plaintiff stated that, due to her disability, she was unable to lift more than 20 pounds. She further stated that she required "reasonable accommodations to perform the job." However, when she started her employment, she noted in a company form that she was not disabled and needed no accommodation.
Plaintiff started working for Dunn Edwards in June 2016. When she needed help with lifting anything, she requested assistance from her coworkers and they always helped her. On November 20, 2015, DE told plaintiff that she had exhausted DE’s 90-day modified duty policy and that DE could no longer accommodate her disability. DE requested that plaintiff get a release to work that permitted her to lift up to 65 pounds, or go on a leave of absence. Given that plaintiff’s disability was ongoing, she went on medical leave. DE extended Carter’s medical leave until March 2016. Then, after her same restrictions on lifting over 20 pounds and squatting continued, DE terminated plaintiff’s employment.
Carter filed her claim in the superior court alleging causes of action for disability discrimination, wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, failure to accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process, retaliation for requesting a disability accommodation, and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment. Following DE’s motion, the Court ordered the matter to arbitration.
That plaintiff performed her job without any incidents, and even received a positive performance evaluation.
That defendant company had an illegal 90-day accommodation policy pursuant to which they would accommodate employee disabilities for only 90 days and no more, without doing the requisite individual assessment to determine whether further accommodation was reasonable. Thereafter, DE would place the employees on a medical leave (even if one was not required) until the employee was ready to return to full duty. Plaintiff further contended that even the leave policy was illegal because it arbitrarily limited the length of the leave, without regard to the individual's needs.
DE argued that plaintiff was unable to perform the essential functions of her job due to her inability to lift over 20 pounds or squat, and no reasonable accommodation was available other than a leave of absence. DE argued that the only potential accommodation which was urged by Carter – assigning Carter’s duties that required lifting/squatting to other employees – was not reasonable as a matter of California law.
Injuries and Other Damages
Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Carter was psychologically damaged as a result of the forced placement on a medical leave and then the wrongful termination. She was also damaged because she was not paid during her leave. Fortunately, she was able to secure a new job shortly after her termination from DE. Therefore, her economic damages were limited to approximately $10,000, as awarded by the arbitrator.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $10,880
Per defense counsel:
The arbitrator held that lifting over 20 pounds was an essential function of the CSL position. He further held that DE’s 90-day policy was lawful. However, the arbitrator ruled that the company discriminated against Carter by not reassigning her essential lifting functions to other employees.
Dunn-Edwards is moving to vacate the arbitration award due to a manifest disregard of law by the arbitrator, improper exclusion of evidence, and bias.