Mr. Cuiellette was a police officer employed by the City of Los Angeles. Due to an on-the-job injury, he was no longer able to perform the duties of a field officer. He filed a workers compensation claim and was rated 100% disabled. The City reassigned him to a light duty desk job, which he could perform. When the City realized that Mr. Cuiellette was rated as 100% disabled, it promptly ended his light duty assignment and sent him packing.
Mr. Cuiellette sued, claiming disability discrimination. He claimed that, regardless of the workers compensation disability rating for his officer job, he could do the essential elements of his light duty desk job. The jury agreed, resulting in a $1.5 million judgment, and an appeal. Cuiellette v City of Los Angeles, 194 Cal. App. 4th 757 (April 22, 2011).
The California Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. It declared that a “rating received in the worker’s compensation proceeding was not, as a matter of law, a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for an employer’s adverse employment action.” Indeed, an employer must engage in the interactive process, and carefully analyze whether an employee can perform the essential functions of his or her job, or other vacant jobs, with or without a reasonable accommodation, regardless of any disability rating. Here, in particular, the Court noted that the City of Los Angeles had a policy and practice of permitting injured employees to perform desk jobs on a long term basis. Thus, it was inappropriate to require that Mr. Cuiellette prove that he could perform the essential elements of his field job, rather than his desk job.