California Landmark Cases on the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides that it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer "to discriminate against a person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" due to the person's race, age, or physical disability. (Gov. Code, 12940, subd. (a).) Under FEHA, terminations, demotions, and denials of available positions may constitute unlawful employment practices. (Horsford v. Board of Trustees of California State University (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 359, 373-375; Cucuzza v. City of Santa Clara (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1031, 1038.) In addition, FEHA establishes that an employer's failure to accord an employee a statutorily defined medical leave and failure to make "reasonable accommodations" for an employee's disability are unlawful employment practices ( 12940, subd. (m), 12945.2, subd. (a)). FEHA also provides that it is an unlawful employment practice "for any employer . . . to discharge, expel, or otherwise discriminate against any person because the person has opposed any practices forbidden under this part or because the person has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any proceeding under this part." ( 12940, subd. (h).) In ruling on a motion for summary judgment in a California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) action, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party and resolve any doubts in her favor. (DeJung v. Superior Court (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 533, 539.) FEHA prohibits discrimination by employers because of physical disability, sex, and pregnancy. ( 12940, subd. (a); see 12926, subd. (r)(1)(A) "'Sex'" includes "pregnancy or medical conditions related to pregnancy".) It also establishes causes of action for certain unlawful employment practices, including failure to make a reasonable accommodation for a disability and failure to engage in a good faith interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation. ( 12940, subds. (m), (n) unlawful for employer to "fail to make reasonable accommodation for the known physical or mental disability of an . . . employee" or "to fail to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process with the employee or applicant to determine effective reasonable accommodations . . ."; 12945, subd. (a)(3)(A) refusal "to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee for a condition related to pregnancy"; Lui, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at p. 970.) "'Although section 12940 proscribes discrimination on the basis of an employee's disability, it specifically limits the reach of that proscription, excluding from coverage those persons who are not qualified, even with reasonable accommodation, to perform essential job duties: "This part does not prohibit an employer from refusing to hire or discharging an employee with a physical or mental disability . . . where the employee, because of his or her physical or mental disability, is unable to perform his or her essential duties even with reasonable accommodations."'" (Liu, supra, at p. 970.) To prevail on her claims of sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and disability discrimination under section 12940, subdivision (a), Cervantes bore the burden of showing "(1) that . . . she was discharged because of a disability, and (2) that . . . she could perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation (in the parlance of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq., that . . . she is a qualified individual with a disability)." (Nadaf-Rahrov v. Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. (2008) 166 Cal.App.4th 952, 962 (Nadaf-Rahrov); Liu, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at pp. 970-971)