In an unfavorable decision for employers, a California court of appeal affirmed a jury verdict (including $1 million in punitive damages) in favor of an employee for retaliation and the employer's failure to engage in the interactive process over reasonable accommodations. In Wysinger v. Automobile Club of Southern California, the plaintiff had a heart condition and arthritis. He repeatedly asked management and human resources for a transfer to reduce his commute time, which requests the employer allegedly ignored.
After plaintiff complained about a new pay plan, his supervisor allegedly responded "it doesn't matter what you did for this company for 30 years… You can die at your desk. We'll replace you tomorrow." Plaintiff then filed a complaint with the EEOC, after which the employer allegedly treated him coldly, issued unfavorable job evaluations and rejected him for a promotion opportunity. On these facts, the court upheld the retaliation verdict and the employer's liability for failure to engage in the interactive process. The court explained that unlike the federal ADA (which does not create separate liability for failure to engage in the interactive process), California's FEHA allows an independent cause of action for violation of the obligation to engage in a good faith interactive process. Accordingly, even if a reasonable accommodation does not seem realistic, California employers nonetheless must engage in the interactive process in good faith.