Employee’s Failure to Engage in Interactive Process Employment Claim Requires Evidence of Reasonable Accommodation.
Plaintiff began working for the Los Angeles Community College District (“District”) as a kitchen assistant in 2007. In 2014, Plaintiff was diagnosed with carpal tunnel. On December 18, 2015, Plaintiff injured her shoulder when opening the door of a heavy industrial dishwasher. Plaintiff made a workers’ compensation claim and was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff. Plaintiff never returned to work after leaving the day of her shoulder injury. Plaintiff sued alleging that the District had violated FEHA by failing to engage in the interactive process and provide reasonable accommodation. At trial, the jury found in favor of Plaintiff. The District argued that Plaintiff failed to prove that there was an available reasonable accommodation that could have been made at the times that Plaintiff alleged that Defendant failed to engage in the interactive process. The trial court rejected this argument, reasoning that the availability of a reasonable accommodation is not an element of an interactive process claim.
Reversed. To succeed on a cause of action for failure to engage in an interactive process, “an employee must identify a reasonable accommodation that would have been available at the time the interactive process should have occurred.” Thus, substantial evidence does not support the jury’s verdict to the extent that they were based on Defendant’s handling of Plaintiff’s shoulder injury. Because the verdict was ambiguous as to whether the jury found for plaintiff based in any part on the defendant’s response to her wrist injury, the case is remanded for a retrial.