Archives for July 2020

HAE Sues Axos Bank After Single Mother Fired While Working From Home During COVID-19 Pandemic

The employee rights advocates at Haeggquist & Eck have sued La Jolla-based Axos Bank after it fired a single mother of four who requested to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.Taneasha Newsome had worked for Axos Bank for nine years and, like many Americans, found herself working remotely from home while managing four children whose schools were shut down earlier this spring as a result of COVID-19. One of her children is autistic, and the shutdown of local schools meant Ms. Newsome was also required to continue all necessary services and therapy appointments for her child while sheltering in place at home.Axos installed a tracking software to monitor employees who were working from home, but the lawsuit alleges that Axos knew the program was unable to track certain aspects of employees’ work, leading to underreporting of actual hours worked.The company demanded that all employees return to full-time, in-office work by May 1, 2020 – at a time when local schools were still shut down. When Ms. Newsom requested an accommodation to continue working from home to care for her children – including her disabled child – Axos Bank fired her, the lawsuit alleges. The complaint alleges associational disability discrimination and wrongful termination, failure to provide reasonable accommodations, and racial discrimination.The lawsuit is pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, in San Diego.

Click here to watch 10News’ coverage of the case. Click here to read about the case in the San Diego Union-Tribune.If you have been fired after requesting an accommodation from your employer, click here or call (619) 342-8000 to contact the employment attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck.

HAE Takes On Central Valley Meat Over COVID-19 Outbreak

A team of attorneys from Haeggquist & Eck have sued Central Valley Meat Company, one of the nation’s largest meat-processing facilities employing more than 900 people in Hanford, Calif., after the company allowed multiple employees to return to work the day after they tested positive for COVID-19 this spring.

Maria Ornelas is the named plaintiff in the case, which is styled as a class action and is pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. Ornelas contracted coronavirus in April and filed the suit on behalf of workers at Central Valley Meat Company.

The complaint alleges that Central Valley Meat knowingly allowed at least one employee to work up to five additional days after testing positive for COVID-19, and states that at least one of the first workers to test positive was expressly told by Central Valley Meat to return to work in only two days, despite CDC guidelines urging otherwise.

Click here to read the Fresno Bee’s coverage of the case. The case was also featured in California Patchon local news outlets throughout California’s Central Valley and Bay Area, and on

If you have been forced to return to work after a positive COVID-19 test, contact the attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck for a free consultation.  You can get in touch with someone who can help by calling (619) 342-8000 or by contacting us online.

Employee Victims of Unlawful Conduct Now Have 3 Years To Pursue Legal Action

Prior to January 1, 2020, employees alleging harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other claims under California’s Fair Employment Housing Act (“FEHA”) had only one year from the most recent date of unlawful conduct (e.g., sexual harassment, discipline, demotion, refused promotion, termination) to file an administrative complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”). This requirement was an absolute, nonnegotiable prerequisite to filing a civil lawsuit for FEHA claims. Unless extended by very limited circumstances, the employee lost the right to sue their employer and to seek damages for these claims if he or she missed the one-year deadline. But after almost 60 years in effect, the one-year statute of limitation has finally been extended. Below, we cover what has changed and what the changes mean for employees who have suffered unlawful conduct.

New Bill Extends Ability To Pursue Legal Action

Recognizing a host of reasons why employee victims cannot always meet the strict one-year deadline – including needing time to fully grasp what happened to them before feeling comfortable to come forward, overcoming fears of retaliation, and being unaware of their rights – California Governor Gavin Newson signed Assembly Bill (AB) 9, known as the Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension (SHARE) Act. Beginning on January 1, 2020, employees now have a total of three years from the most recent date of unlawful conduct to file their DFEH complaint. As before, once the employee satisfies this administrative prerequisite, they have the option of having the DFEH investigate their complaint and receiving a “Right to Sue” at the conclusion of the investigation or receiving an immediate Right to Sue. In either event, the employee still has only one additional year from date of the Right to Sue Notice to file their FEHA claims in court.

Importantly, the SHARE Act explicitly does not revive claims that already lapsed under the prior one-year rule (essentially, any unfiled claims that arose before January 1, 2019). The Act did not, however, specifically address which limitation period applies to claims that occurred between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019, though the analysis by the Senate Judiciary Committee suggests that the statute of limitation for those claims will expire in 2022 instead of 2020. And going forward, all employee victims will get the benefit of the three-year expansion.

How the Extension Benefits Employees

It is difficult to understate the importance of this change and how much it will help victims of unlawful conduct in the workplace. Previously, many employees were limited in their ability to recover damages due to the one-year deadline. There are many scenarios where someone may not be prepared to pursue legal action within that brief time frame. In instances of sexual harassment or assault, it can take many months or even years to process the inappropriate actions. If one is still employed by a company, it can easy to become intimidated by the specter of retaliatory actions. You might also attempt to pursue a matter internally through a company’s HR department, an often labyrinthine process that results in your very real injuries being lost in an endless bureaucracy.

HR Departments tend to protect the company, not you, and many employees do not realize the extent of their legal options when they have been measurably injured by unlawful employer conduct. In some situations, individuals may not even realize that an employer was behaving unlawfully. While one could previously pursue legal action against employers from one year following the discovery of unlawful conduct, proving the point discovery represents another legal hurdle for employees to overcome.

The new three-year timeline gives many wronged employees the ability to evaluate the full extent of their options and come to a decision on whether they wish to pursue formal legal action.  If you believe you have been the victim of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, and the most recent incident of unlawful conduct occurred on or after January 1, 2019, you may be able to hold your employer legally accountable. Our employment attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP can meet with you and assess the facts of your situation. We can then determine if you have a case and walk you through your legal options.

The new law gives you extra time to pursue legal action against your employer, but do not wait to call (619) 342-8000 or contact us online if you believe you have a claim.

Before COVID-19, My Employer Claimed It Could Not Accommodate My Disability- or Pregnancy-Related Request To Work from Home. Now Everyone Works from Home. What Gives?

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to implement teleworking, employers were required to provide such accommodations to its disabled and pregnancy-disabled employees so long as it did not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. Unfortunately, some employers have been too quick to deny such a request from its disabled employees in the past, which begs the question – why was it so easy for them to implement teleworking for their able-bodied employees? And if it could suddenly implement teleworking for its entire workforce, what other accommodations has it been wrongfully denying? These employers could potentially be liable for their failures to accommodate their disabled employees.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees with actual or perceived physical or mental disabilities, including pregnancy-related disabilities. Furthermore, employers have an affirmative duty to provide reasonable accommodations for the known disabilities of its employees and to engage in an interactive process with employees to determine what accommodations are needed and which can be provided. An employer may only deny requested accommodations if it would require significant difficulty or expense. Going forward, it is going to be much more difficult for employers to deny accommodation requests from disabled employees.

What is a Disability under FEHA?

Disabilities are broadly defined under FEHA and include:

  • Any mental or psychological disorder or condition, such as an intellectual disability, emotional or mental illness, or specific learning disability, that makes a major life activity, such as working, more difficult to achieve; or
  • Any physiological disease, disorder, or condition that affects a bodily system such as neurological, immunological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine, and makes a major life activity, such as working, more difficult to achieve; or
  • Any condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, or a related medical condition if, in the opinion of her health care provider, the condition makes the person unable to perform any of the essential functions of her job without undue risk to herself, to her pregnancy’s successful completion, or to other persons.

Examples of physical disabilities include deafness, blindness, partially or completely missing limbs, mobility impairments, cerebral palsy, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, epilepsy, seizure disorder, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and heart and circulatory disease. Examples of mental disabilities include autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Examples of pregnancy disabilities

include severe morning sickness, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia, post-partum depression, childbirth, loss or end of pregnancy, and recovery from childbirth, loss or end of pregnancy.

Disability does not, however, include sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, or substance abuse disorders and typically does not cover mild conditions such as the common cold, seasonal or common flu, minor cuts, sprains, muscle aches, soreness, bruises, or abrasions, non-migraine headaches, and minor and non-chronic gastrointestinal disorders.

What Must An Employer Do To Accommodate Disabled Employees?

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for the known disabilities of their employees. Essentially, a reasonable accommodation is any change to the work environment or to the way a job is typically done that will enable a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of their job. Employers must consider any and all accommodations that it is aware of or that are brought to its attention by the applicant or employee. Examples of accommodations include:

  • Teleworking;
  • Leaves of absences, even after all protected leave has been exhausted;
  • Modified work schedules or offering part-time work;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices and providing assistive aids such as qualified readers or interpreters;
  • Making existing facilities readily accessible;
  • Allowing assistive animals;
  • Transferring to a vacant position or a more accessible worksite;
  • Job restructuring such as reallocation or redistribution of certain job functions and altering when or how certain job functions are performed;
  • Adjusting or modifying examinations, trainings, policies, or supervisory methods; and
  • Providing additional training.

Additionally, for pregnancy-disabled employees, accommodations may also include permitting more frequent breaks, providing furniture (e.g., stools or chairs), providing a reasonable amount of break time and use of a room or other location close to the employee’s work area to lactate in private, and temporary reassignment to a less strenuous or hazardous position or to less strenuous or hazardous duties. Employers are not, however, required to eliminate any essential job duties, lower quality or quantity standards, or create new positions for disabled employees.

Employers may only deny a disabled employee’s accommodation request if the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. But before an employer can do so, it must first engage in an interactive process with the employee.

What is the Interactive Process?

The interactive process is an individualized assessment of the job at issue and the specific disability-related limitations of the employee that are directly related to the need for accommodation. An employer is required to initiate the interactive process if an employee with a known disability requests accommodations, the employer otherwise becomes aware of the employee’s need for an accommodation through a third party or by observation, or the employer becomes aware of the possible need for an accommodation because the employee with a disability has exhausted all available leave.

The interactive process must be in good faith and timely. The employer must either grant the accommodation request or reject it after due consideration and discuss possible alternatives. This involves identifying potential accommodations and assessing the effectiveness each would have in enabling the employee to perform the essential function of their job. An employer may request medical documentation to support the need for accommodation, though it may not ask about the underlying medical cause of the disability. An employer may also request clarification of medical documentation and consult experts.

In the end, an employer may only deny an accommodation if, after engaging in this interactive process, it determines that the requested accommodation would impose an “undue hardship” – meaning the accommodation would require significant difficulty or expense considering factors such as the availability of tax credits and deductions and/or outside funding, the overall financial resources of the company, the number of employees and number, type, and location of its facilities, and the impact on operations. This is a very high burden to prove.

What To Do if You Believe Your Rights are Being Violated

It is important to know that your employer cannot discriminate against you based on your disability, including pregnancy, and cannot retaliate against you for requesting disability-related accommodations. If you are disabled and believe your employer has violated your rights, you may be able to hold them legally accountable. The employment law attorneys of Haeggquist & Eck, LLP will work with you to learn about your situation and seek fair and just compensation if your employer is breaking the law. Contact us online or call (619) 342-8000 to learn more about how we may be able to support your claim.

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