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.

What’s New at Workforce.com?

blog workforce

Come see what we’re building in the world of predictive employee scheduling, superior labor insights and next-gen employee apps. We’re on a mission to automate workforce management for hourly employees and bring productivity, optimization and engagement to the frontline.

Book a call
See the software

Related Articles

workforce blog

Compliance

Minimum Wage by State in 2023 – All You Need to Know

Summary Twenty-three states and D.C. raised their minimum wage rates in 2023, effective January 1.  Thr...

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

workforce blog

Legal

New Labor Laws Taking Effect in 2023

The new year is fast approaching, and with its arrival comes a host of new labor laws that will impact ...

labor laws, minimum wage, wage and hour law

workforce blog

Legal

Wage and Hour Laws in 2022: What Employers Need to Know

Whether a mom-and-pop shop with a handful of employees or a large corporation staffing thousands, compl...

compliance, wage and hour law