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Employees Seeking Leave For Pregnancy-Related Disability Are Not Limited to Pregnancy Leave Laws

February 25, 2013

By:  Christopher P. Wesierski and Roxana Amini

Ana Sanchez was employed as a cleaning agent for Swissport, Inc. from August 2007 to July 14, 2009. Around February 27, 2009, she was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy, requiring bedrest until the baby was due, which was October 19, 2009. After she was diagnosed, she requested and received a temporary leave of absence from Swissport. Swissport gave Sanchez the maximum leave they could under the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDDL), which is four months. They also gave her accrued vacation time. On July 14, 2009, almost 5 months after taking pregnancy leave, Sanchez was terminated. Sanchez then sued Swissport, alleging she was fired because of her pregnancy, her pregnancy-related disability and/or her requests for accommodations.

In response to the complaint, Swissport argued that Sanchez was permitted all of the pregnancy leave to which she was entitled, and her employment was terminated only when that leave expired and she was not able to return to work. Based on this, they had satisfied all their obligations under the pregnancy disability statutes. Swissport argued that the PDDL was the exclusive remedy for an employee seeking reasonable accommodation of her pregnancy-related disability. Once the maximum four-month leave period specified in the PDLL expired, an employee was entitled to no other protection under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Sanchez filed an opposition, arguing that she was entitled to reasonable accommodations for her pregnancy-related disability under the FEHA, independent of the leave provisions articulated in the PDLL and the California Family Rights Act. She argued she was a disabled employee and was therefore entitled to a reasonable accommodation, which may include leave of no statutorily fixed duration. Courts have held that holding a job open for a disabled employee who needs time to recuperate or heal is in itself a form of reasonable accommodation and may be all that is required where it appears likely that the employee will be able to return to an existing position at some time in the foreseeable future. 

The trial court agreed with Swissport and sustained its demurrer, finding that Swissport had provided Sanchez all the pregnancy leave possible under the law. Sanchez then appealed.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling. The court noted that the remedies provided in the PDLL are “in addition to” those governing pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy-related medical conditions set forth in the FEHA.” This includes reasonable accommodation. Thus, the court argued, Swissport did not provide all remedies under the law. Swissport could have given Sanchez four months off under the pregnancy statutes, and reasonable accommodation (in the form of keeping her job open for her) under the disability statutes.

Facts from Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc. 2013 WL 635266 (February 21, 2013).

California Highway Patrol Owes No Duty to Aid Injured Motorist Absent Special Relationship

February 25, 2013

By:  Christopher P. Wesierski and Ashley A. Reagan

This case arises from two motor vehicle accidents on State Route 99.  The first accident involved an SUV that hit the center divider and flipped onto its side, causing it to block one lane.  The SUV’s headlights and taillights were out and its dark undercarriage faced on-coming traffic.  Three minutes later, a Greyhound bus collided with the SUV killing 3 bus passengers and the 3 occupants of the SUV.  Greyhound was sued for damages for its alleged negligence.  Greyhound filed a cross-complaint against California Highway Patrol (CHP) alleging that it was negligent for its failure to timely notify of and respond to the first accident. 

Greyhound argued that CHP owed a duty of care to the bus passengers based on the 911 operator’s assurances to the 911 callers that CHP was on the way.  The 911 CHP operator failed to note in the system that the SUV was blocking a lane- such a notation would have put the accident at high priority.  Accordingly, the accident was assigned to an officer that was not close to the scene.  Greyhound asserted that these facts supported a finding of negligence. 

The trial court dismissed the cross-complaint against CHP.  The court of appeal affirmed, finding that CHP officers owed no duty to come to the aid of others absent a special relationship between the injured party and the officers.  Here, the court concluded that there was no special relationship and no duty was owed. 

In general, a person who has not created a peril does not owe a duty to come to the aid of another.  Recovery for injuries caused by the failure of CHP to respond to requests for assistance, to investigate properly, or to investigate at all will be denied unless CHP personnel induced reliance based on a promise, express or implied, that they would provide protection.  Any failure by CHP that leaves the injured citizen in the same position that he was already in does not support a finding of duty of care.  If a special relationship were to be found under the circumstances of this case, CHP would be an insurer of safety on the highway rather than an enforcer of the Vehicle Code.  The special relationship rule is to be applied narrowly and is reserved for unusual cases.  CHP owed no duty to the injured passengers in this case.

Facts and analysis based upon Greyhound Lines v. Department of the California Highway Patrol decided February 14, 2013 by the California Court of Appeal, Fifth District.