Teacher claims school district failed to accommodate her MS disability. Defense verdict. Los Angeles County.

Summary

Elementary school teacher is diagnosed with MS, needs regular aide in classroom but says district does not accomodate that request.

The Case

  • Case Name: Lily S. Carvajal Monge v. Montebello Unified School District
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles County Superior Court / 19STCV21299
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, September 16, 2021
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, June 19, 2019
  • Type of Action: Employment, Highlighted Verdicts
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Gregory Alarcon
  • Plaintiffs:
    Lily S. Carvajal Monge, 53, elementary school teacher
  • Defendants:
    Montebello Unified School District
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: Defense verdict
  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 hours
  • Jury Polls: 12-0
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: None.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Law Office of Jan T. Aune by Jan Aune, Burbank.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Meyers Fozi & Dwork, LLP by Golnar Fozi, Jeremy Dwork and Gabriel Kontarovsky, Carlsbad.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    None.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Johnson Moon, M.D., neurology, Fullerton.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    The lawsuit arose from allegations by a former elementary school teacher diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during her employment with the defendant district.

    At trial, evidence was presented that the District had accommodated plaintiff’s disability and work restrictions due to her multiple sclerosis for the better part of ten years. The District worked with plaintiff, its own employees, and outside compliance consultants to ensure that plaintiff was being reasonably accommodated for her ongoing and increasing work restrictions.

    Plaintiff was a teacher in the district for approximately 23 years, most of which were spent teaching fourth grade.  In 2008 plaintiff was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). 

     

    Plaintiff  had approximately 15 work restrictions set out by her neurologist in restriction letters that were provided to the District over an approximately 10-year period.  Plaintiff's main accommodation was that she needed to use the restroom approximately 2 to 3 times per day, during class time. Plaintiff needed to use the restroom because her MS causes bladder control issues. Plaintiff needed another employee to supervise her fourth-grade class during these short restroom breaks because the students could not be left unsupervised. 

     

    Plaintiff was placed on medical leave in August 2018. This determination followed an interactive process meeting where plaintiff expressed that the District’s previous accommodations were unsuccessful due to the variability of her multiple sclerosis symptoms. At that point, the evidence showed that plaintiff’s accommodation requests were affecting the quantity and quality of instruction to the District’s students. Nevertheless, even after plaintiff was placed on medical leave, the District continued to engage in the interactive process with her to determine if there was a way to reasonably accommodate her extensive work restrictions.

    In May 2019, nine months after she was placed on medical leave, plaintiff’s treating neurologist determined that she was unable to work due to the progression of her multiple sclerosis, and a disability retirement followed.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the District failed to reasonably accommodate her disability by failing to hire an aide to supervise her students during instruction time so that she could attend to issues related to her medical condition, and by placing her on a medical leave in August 2018.

    Also, that the District discriminated and retaliated against her as well as harassed her on the basis of her disability and for complaining of the District’s failure to accommodate her work restrictions. Lastly, that the District failed to prevent disability discrimination, retaliation, and harassment against its employees.

    Plaintiff last worked as a fourth-grade teacher in June of 2018, the Spring Semester. Plaintiff and the District continued the interactive process in the Fall of 2018 and Spring of 2019 but the District would not accommodate plaintiff's MS. Plaintiff suffered extreme emotion distress during this period due to her not being able to return to work.The District would not accommodate plaintiff's MS for the 2018-2019 school year and would not allow her to return to teach in August 2018.  In or about May 2019, plaintiff's neurologist classified plaintiff as permanently disabled and she received a full-disability retirement in or about July 2019. 
     
    Both plaintiff and defendant designated plaintiff's neurologist, Dr. Johnson Moon, as a non-retained expert and subpoenaed Dr. Moon to appear at trial but he did not appear and testify.  
     
     
  • Defendant's Contentions:

    The District accommodated plaintiff for 10 years following her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. The District provided annual interactive process meetings, complied with doctor orders regarding work restrictions, and accommodated plaintiff's requests as relates to her progressive medical condition.

    Plaintiff's condition deteriorated, however, which caused the District to be unable to reasonably accommodate plaintiff's exceptional work-related restrictions. The restrictions placed an undue burden on the District, and compromised the safety and educational needs of the students.

    Plaintiff was placed on a medical leave and, ultimately, her own treating neurologist determined she was unable to work with, or without, reasonable accommodation. Plaintiff secured a disability retirement.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Emotional distress. 

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: N/A
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: N/A
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $20,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: N/A

Demands and Offers

  • Defendant §998 Offer: $100,000

Additional Notes

For the Special Verdict Form, the jury answered "No" to Question No. 1 which states: "For the 2018/2019 academic year, was plaintiff able to perform the essential functions of her position with reasonable accommodation for her multiple sclerosis?"  Since the jury answered "No" they did not need to answer any more questions on the Special Verdict Form. 

At trial plaintiff's counsel asked the jury to award $2,000,000 for emotional distress.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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