Cuiellette v. City of Los Angeles (Case No. B224303, Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Apr. 22, 2011) is a reminder to employers that simply because an employee (in this case, a police officer) has been rated as 100% totally and permanently disabled–for workers’ compensation purposes–the employer is not relieved of its duties under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). A workers’ compensation rating, even 100% disabled, does not mean that the employee cannot be a qualified individual entitled to an individualized assessment of his or her disability through an interactive process and a reasonable accommodation.
In this case, the LAPD had a policy of offering injured police officers one of 250 permanent “light-duty” positions as an accommodation, but the LAPD fired the plaintiff after he worked five days in the light duty assignment when they learned that he was 100% disabled according to his workers compensation rating. According to the court, the relevant inquiry should have been for the LAPD to determine whether the employee was a qualified individual who was able to perform the essential functions of the position to which he was, or would be reassigned–not whether he was able to perform the essential duties of his original position.
After his termination, Cuielette filed a lawsuit alleging that the City of Los Angeles violated FEHA by sending him home because of his workers compensation disability rating, failed to engage in the interactive process, and failed to accommodate him. He received a $1,571,500 jury verdict, and after three appeals, the Court affirmed the jury’s finding that the City had violated FEHA by summarily sending Cuiellette home because of his disability rating and without engaging in the interactive process.
Bottom line, workers comp is a whole other animal, and the ADA and FEHA must be analyzed independently.