Lewis Brisbois Employment Law Team Obtains Rarely-Granted Summary Judgment on Behalf of Hotelier in ADA Matter

Los Angeles, Calif. (September 2, 2020) - Kansas City and Wichita Managing Partner Alan L. Rupe and Orange County Partner Haleh R. Jenkins recently obtained rarely-granted relief on behalf of the owner of a major hotel in Long Beach, California after being brought in on a disability discrimination matter following discovery. Thanks to the involvement of Mr. Rupe and Ms. Jenkins' efforts, the Los Angeles Superior Court granted Lewis Brisbois’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing all claims brought against our client.

In this case, the plaintiff worked as a room attendant for the defendant’s hotel. She was terminated for poor performance within days of her return from medical leave, and subsequently sued our client under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging that the defendant did not accommodate her hip-related disabilities when she returned to work. Instead, she contended that her manager set her up to fail by asking her to clean several extremely messy rooms by a deadline that was impossible to meet. She also alleged that she was not provided with uninterrupted 10-minute rest periods, that co-workers who were also unable to complete job duties were not terminated, and that the defendant failed to pay her outstanding wages.

In her complaint, the plaintiff included causes of action for disability discrimination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination/retaliation, failure to provide reasonable accommodations, failure to engage in a good faith interactive process, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, failure to pay wages, and failure to provide rest breaks. She also sought a declaratory judgment and waiting time penalties. Mr. Rupe and Ms. Jenkins attempted to resolve the matter through mediation and a mandatory settlement conference. However, the plaintiff never reduced her demand from $650,000. 

Following the parties’ unsuccessful attempts at resolution, Mr. Rupe and Ms. Jenkins filed a motion for summary judgment. In a 34-page opinion, Judge Christopher K. Lui adopted Lewis Brisbois’ position, explaining that the plaintiff failed to establish that she was disabled at the time of her termination, noting that pain alone was insufficient to establish a disability without a limitation on activity.  The court further described that although the plaintiff had claimed that her pain caused her to work slowly after her return from leave, she had failed to tell anyone about this alleged limitation until after she was terminated. The court stated that our client “was not required to read Plaintiff’s mind as to her inability to work.” In addition, the court held that even if the plaintiff had established a disability, we presented evidence that the plaintiff’s termination was for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, namely, her performance deficiencies, which were documented before and after her work-related injury. 

Despite the plaintiff’s efforts to create a triable issue regarding pretext, by contending that other employees had not been terminated for similar deficiencies, the court methodically disregarded these arguments based on the plaintiff’s failure to adequately establish comparators.  As such, the court ultimately held that the plaintiff failed to establish disability discrimination. Based upon the same reasoning, the court also dismissed her retaliation and failure to prevent causes of action.

In addition, the court rejected the plaintiff’s claims regarding failure to engage in the interactive process, failure to accommodate, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy, as well as her Labor Code causes of action for failure to pay wages and failure to provide rest breaks. It further denied her request for declaratory judgment and waiting time penalties as well.  

Mr. Rupe serves as vice-chair of Lewis Brisbois’ Labor & Employment Practice. An experienced trial lawyer who is consistently recognized for excellence by local, state, national, and international rankings organizations, Mr. Rupe focuses his practice on every aspect of employment law, including day-to-day counseling, training, administrative agency proceedings, civil litigation, and trials.

Ms. Jenkins is a member of Lewis Brisbois’ Labor & Employment Practice. She regularly represents employers in litigation and appeals. In addition, she advises her clients on risk management, policy preparation, and training issues.

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