Legal

Legal Briefing: Bosses Can Be a Liability — But Not a Disability

By Mark Kobata

Aug. 3, 2015

Michaelin Higgins-Williams worked for the Sutter Medical Foundation in Sacramento, California. From 2007 to the end of her employment, Higgins-Williams worked under Norma Perry, her regional manager, and Debbie Prince, her immediate supervisor. In June 2010, Higgins-Williams reported to her doctor that she was feeling stress and anxiety because of interactions with her supervisors and human resources.

Higgins-Williams’ doctor subsequently placed her on disability leave because of “stress” as a result of the difficulties she said she was having with her supervisors. She returned from leave only to go out on leave again just over a month later. Her doctor later released Higgins-Williams to work so long as she did not have to work under the same supervisors. After she exhausted all available leave and after engaging in an extensive interactive process looking for an accommodation, Sutter Medical Foundation terminated her employment. Higgins-Williams sued, claiming disability discrimination. The trial court granted Sutter Medical Foundation’s motion for summary judgment, and Higgins-Williams appealed. The California Court of Appeal for the 3rd Appellate District upheld summary judgment against Higgins-Williams, finding that she did not have a legal disability. The court concluded that while being unable to perform a particular job might be a disability under California law, being unable to work with a particular supervisor is not. Higgins-Williams v. Sutter Medical Foundation, Cal. Ct. App. No. C073677(May 26, 2015).

Impact: Employees cannot use California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act to dictate who they will and won’t work with. Employers still need to be careful, however, because a condition that limits an employee’s ability to do a particular job could still qualify as a disability.

Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has office in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

Mark Kobata and Marty Denis are partners at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago.

About Workforce.com

blog workforce

We build robust scheduling & attendance software for businesses with 500+ frontline workers. With custom BI reporting and demand-driven scheduling, we help our customers reduce labor spend and increase profitability across their business. It's as simple as that.

Book a call
See the software

Related Articles

workforce blog

Compliance

Minimum Wage by State in 2022 – All You Need to Know

Summary The federal minimum wage rate is $7.25, but the rate is higher in 30 states, along with Washing...

federal law, minimum wage, pay rates, state law, wage law compliance

workforce blog

Legal

California’s push for a 32-hour workweek explained, and how to prepare

Summary: California is considering a 32-hour workweek bill for businesses with over 500 staff 4 day wee...

32 hour workweek, 4 day workweek, california, legislature, overtime

workforce blog

Legal

A business owner’s guide to restaurant tipping law

Business owners in the restaurant industry are in a unique position when it comes to employee tips. As ...

restaurants, tip laws, tipping