The owner of 25th Century Services, Inc., an employment agency, refused to follow the return-to-work form completed by a pregnant employee’s doctor. That refusal cost 25th Century almost $30,000 in damages. The Department of Fair Employment Housing reported that Shannon Ortiz, a recruiter, became pregnant and fell when eight months pregnant. Her doctor returned her to work without restrictions, but the owner of 25th Century refused to reinstate her and placed her on a leave of absence. She sued and the Ventura County jury awarded her $2,318.76 in economic damages, $4,000.00 for her emotional distress, $1,000.00 for her future emotional distress and $20,000.00 in punitive damages.
According to Diana Tsudik, of the Firm’s Los Angeles office, this case shows the importance of complying with a doctor’s return-towork letter. Employers should not substitute their own judgment for the judgment of the doctor, even if the employer may be worried about additional injury to the employee. When a doctor certifies that an employee is able to return to work, California law, like the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, requires an employer to return that employee to the same or similarly situated position upon her return from leave. If an employee is on a leave of absence and the employer does not know if and when he will return, the employer has the right to ask for information about the employee’s condition and ability to return to work. The Firm has assisted employers in obtaining this information from its employees and their doctors before making decisions about their continued employment status.