Swanson v. Morongo Unified School Dist., 2014 WL 7399317 (Cal. Ct. App. 2014)

Lauralyn Swanson was a teacher for the Yucca Valley Elementary School who was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. After the district’s board of education voted not to renew Swanson’s contract, Swanson sued for discrimination based on medical condition, denial of reasonable accommodation and refusal to engage in the interactive process. The trial court granted the school district’s motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that triable issues of fact existed with respect to Swanson’s claims. Specifically, the Court held there was evidence that once Swanson informed the school district of her breast cancer and took a medical leave of absence to receive treatment, the district began a course of conduct designed “to set her up for failure by giving her difficult assignments without the resources required to succeed so that the district later could use Swanson’s performance as a pretext for its decision not to renew her contract.” The Court further held that the school district failed to meet its burden to negate an essential element of Swanson’s failure to accommodate claim because it did not present evidence showing the second grade position Swanson sought was not available or otherwise was not a reasonable accommodation or that the positions the school district did offer to Swanson were reasonable accommodations that would have allowed her to adequately perform the essential job functions. The Court also held that the school district failed to present any evidence to show it engaged Swanson in an interactive dialogue as required under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Compare Curley v. City of N. Las Vegas, 772 F.3d 629 (9th Cir. 2014) (employee’s long history of verbal altercations with coworkers, threats to supervisors and performance deficiencies constituted legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for termination, notwithstanding his allegations of being disabled by a hearing impairment and being retaliated against for having filed a previous EEOC complaint).