Healthcare employer fires supervisor after medical leave. $420K. Yuba County.
20-year employee seeks to return to work with medical limitations; employer fails to accomodate her, then terminates her.
- Case Name: Abinante v. The Fremont-Rideout Health Group
- Court and Case Number: Yuba County Court Case / YCSCCVCV 16 - 0000613
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, August 16, 2017
- Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, June 22, 2016
- Type of Action: Discrimination, ADA, Wrongful Termination
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Stephen Berrier
- Plaintiffs: Denise Abinante, 52.
- Defendants: The Fremont-Rideout Health Group
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $420,000
- Net Verdict or Award: $420,000
- Economic Damages:
Past economic loss: $120,000
Future economic loss: $300,000
- Non-Economic Damages:
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 days.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day.
- Jury Polls: 12-0 on three causes of action; 11-1 on two causes of action.
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiff's motion for Attorneys Fees and Costs.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Tower Legal Group, PC by James Clark and Renee Parras, Sacramento.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Carothers, DiSante & Freudenberger, LLP by Mark Van Brussel and Joel Van Parys, Sacramento.
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
George Jouganatos, Ph.D., economics, Sacramento.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
Plaintiff began working for defendant Fremont-Rideout Health Group in January of 1996. Throughout plaintiff’s employment with defendant, plaintiff received stellar performance reviews and over the years continuously moved up in positions until her final promotion as Central Supply Supervisor in December of 2008.
On September 15, 2014, plaintiff sustained a workplace injury to her back. Plaintiff immediately reported her injury to her supervisor before presenting to the emergency room. On September 17, 2014, plaintiff's medical provider concluded that plaintiff had sustained several injuries including, sprain in lumbar region, disc displacement lumbar, and scoliosis idiopathic.
Plaintiff returned to work on September 22, 2014 on modified duty as a result of her physical disability. Plaintiff’s work restrictions consisted of a reduced hour schedule of 4 hours per day, no bending and stooping, and no lifting, pushing or pulling more than five pounds. Plaintiff worked with, and defendant accommodated, these restrictions through April 2015 at which time, her occupational physician approved her to return to work without restrictions.
On May 26, 2015, plaintiff took a leave of absence for stress-induced illness through August 25, 2015. On June 24, 2015, plaintiff underwent a brief workers' compensation qualified medical evaluation to assess plaintiff’s physical disability, write a medical-legal report, and determine her eligibility for workers' compensation benefits. It was determined plaintiff had reached maximum medical improvement, and also indicated plaintiff would have a work restriction of “no repetitive bending and stopping and no heavy lifting over twenty pounds.” In anticipation of her return to work on August 26, 2015, plaintiff reached out to defendants to arrange a meeting to discuss her return to work and provide her QME report and updated work restrictions. Defendants concluded they could not accommodate plaintiff's restrictions, even though plaintiff had performed the essential functions for over 7 months with more restrictive limitations.
Defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment effective August 24, 2015.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
Plaintiff Abinante claimed that her former employer, defendant Fremont-Rideout Health Group, discriminated against her based on her known physical disability, failed to accommodate, failed to engage in an interactive process regarding any possible accommodations, failed to prevent discrimination and wrongfully terminated plaintiff’s employment.
Plaintiff was terminated after 20 years of employment due to her disability in violation of FEHA. Defendants failed to interact with Plaintiff to identify reasonable accommodations that would permit Plaintiff to continue working during her recovery, including, but not limited to, additional leave of absence. Additionally, Defendants failed to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
- Defendant's Contentions:
Defendant alleged plaintiff could not perform her job as Central Supply Supervisor, that it could not accommodate her work restrictions of no repetitive bending and stooping and no heavy lifting over twenty pounds in plaintiff’s job as a Central Supply Supervisor, and that it was unable to offer plaintiff a regular, modified, or alternative position.
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $400,000
- Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $10,000