Employee’s right to privacy during accommodation of illness or disability

Lauren Scricca worked as a Clinical Nurse for the University of California Irvine Medical Center (UCI) and was assigned to the Acute Rehab Unit. Throughout the 10 years she worked for UCI, she was commended for her performance and had several promotions.

She was fired in 2018. The Daily Journal reports the following:

Lauren has a hearing disability. When she started work for UCI, she said that her employer initially accommodated her in her assigned department. However, for most of her tenure, the employer took no steps to accommodate her in other departments. This prevented her from “floating” to other units when scheduled to do so.

About a year before she was fired, UCI instituted cost cutting measures that reduced the number of shifts available to nurses. All nurses were then required to either float or be “called out.” Lauren wanted to float but could not because there were no accommodations in other units. Instead of accommodating her, her manager exempted Lauren from either floating or being called out. This resulted in Lauren being given full shifts at the expense of the other nurses. Lauren told her manager she did not want this special treatment. However, the manager ignored her and then went on to inform the other nurses that Lauren would be treated differently.

The other nurses, thus, resented Lauren. Some nurses began to claim for the first time, after eight years of working with her, that they never saw her use a stethoscope. The manager charged Lauren with “falsification of records” for reporting lung health on medical charts without using a stethoscope. Lauren showed that she used a special expensive stethoscope that allowed her to hear when listening to patients’ lungs. This stethoscope had to be carried in her pocket and had to be kept in her locker. She used it only when seeing patients behind closed curtains. Despite this, UCI fired her.

Lauren sued UCI for wrongful termination based on disability discrimination and a failure to accommodate her disability. She alleged that the reason for her termination was false and pre-textual, and that the employer’s decision to terminate her was motivated by her hearing disability, which UCI had not fully accommodated over the years.

For employers with 5 or more employees, California law prohibits discrimination based on disability or medical condition. Employees may not be terminated or discriminated in compensation or other conditions of employment based on their disability or medical condition.

An employee suffering from a disability or medical condition is entitled to reasonable accommodation. Allowing temporary leave may constitute reasonable accommodation.

The employer must in good faith determine whether a disabled employee can be transferred or reassigned to a vacant position. The employer is in a better position to know what jobs are vacant or may become vacant. The law also entitles the disabled employee to “preferential consideration” in reassignment of existing employees.

Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer may not tell other employees that an employee is receiving a reasonable accommodation as this may amount to a disclosure that the individual has a disability. The ADA and California’s privacy laws specifically prohibit the disclosure of medical information except in certain limited situations. These situations do not include disclosure to coworkers.

If an employer is asked by an employee about why a coworker is receiving a “different” or “special” treatment, the employer must point to a policy of assisting employees who encounter difficulties in the workplace. Many of the workplace issues encountered by employees are personal, and in these circumstances, the employer should enforce policies that respect employee privacy.

Lauren’s case went to trial for 9 days. After 2.5 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Lauren, awarding her $1,136,942 on various causes of action including failure to reasonably accommodate and failure to engage in the interactive process.

* * *

The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Filipino-American Community Newspaper. Your News. Your Community. Your Journal. Since 1991.