Haeggquist & Eck, LLP is representing former San Diego County Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Nick Yphantides (known by the community as “Dr. Nick”), in his claims that his wrongful termination was due to discrimination. Dr. Nick was the Chief Medical Officer for San Diego County for over 11 years. He was one of the County’s first public faces responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, frequently appearing at televised press conferences to inform, guide, educate, calm, and empathize with San Diegans. But Dr. Nick’s all-consuming fight against the fear, confusion, and death sweeping the world came at a great personal cost.
The long hours, coupled with the misery and death encountered every day, caused him to suffer from insomnia and major depression, which evolved into hypomania, forcing him to take a medical leave of absence on recommendation from his doctor. Dr. Nick’s lawsuit further alleges that soon after his return to work, the County failed to accommodate Dr. Nick’s condition, forced Dr. Nick to take a second leave of absence, then San Diego County officials unlawfully fired him before he could return from his second leave.
In March 2023, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled that Dr. Nick’s discrimination lawsuit against the county can move forward. Judge Curiel wrote that Dr. Nick has successfully shown his “supervisor and colleagues were directly informed of his mental breakdown due to the excessive work hours and high level of stress in his position.” Other employees have sued the county over disability-related allegations. Before workers can file a lawsuit against their employer for any form of discrimination — whether that be race, age, or disability-related — they must first seek permission from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. From 2015 through May of 2020, the state gave 15 San Diego County employees the right to sue. Of those 15, seven employees alleged discrimination due to some kind of disability, according to state records.1
In an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune, Dr. Nick Yphantides said,
“From March until October of last year, I focused on issues related to COVID-19 around the clock,” Yphantides, 55, said during a remote press conference Wednesday morning. “But I must be transparent and admit that eventually the stress became overwhelming for me. I couldn’t run from it. I began suffering from depression and overwhelming anxiety. I lost my ability to sleep. And so, in that situation, I did what I believe any of us would tell our loved ones to do. To take a brief leave of absence.”
“They threw him away because of his disability and because he took time off to treat it, and that cannot stand,” Haeggquist & Eck attorney Jenna Rangel said.
“The county fell victim to the biases and stigmas of mental health” struggles, Haeggquist & Eck attorney Aaron Olsen said.
Disability Discrimination and Perceived Disability Discrimination are Against the Law
Disability discrimination and perceived disability discrimination violate workers’ rights in California. Both federal and state laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to work, as long as they can perform essential functions of a job, with or without a reasonable accommodation￼ require employers to engage in an interactive process in good faith with employees to find effective accommodations and reasonable accommodation￼. Disability anti-discrimination laws require employers to engage in an interactive process in good faith with employees to find effective accommodations and prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against employees due to a real or perceived disability. The laws also prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against employees for conduct caused by a disability.
At Haeggquist & Eck, LLP, we firmly believe in equal rights for all and fight tirelessly for the rights of people with disabilities. If your employer has failed to make reasonable accommodations for you, or if you believe your employer has discriminated against you based on your disability or perceived disability, reach out to us for help seeking fair and just compensation.