In Swanson v. Morongo Unified School District, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (December 30, 2014), the California Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division Three) reversed the order of the San Bernardino County Superior Court (Judge Hosking) granting summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of disability discrimination and failure to accommodate disability.
Plaintiff was an elementary school teacher who worked for defendant employer as a “technology/reading specialist and computer laboratory teacher” at an elementary school during the 2006/2007 school year. Right before the 2007/2008 school year started, however, plaintiff was assigned to be a “‘LANGUAGE!’ Reading Specialist.” At around the same time, plaintiff was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. She expressed concern to defendant about her new teaching assignment because she lacked the necessary training. Although defendant did send plaintiff to training, she was unable to complete it due to complications from her surgery. Subsequently, plaintiff missed much of the 2007/2008 school year due to radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The following school year, defendant assigned plaintiff to teach the Fifth Grade, but she objected, asking instead to be assigned to Second Grade. In response, defendant re-assigned plaintiff to teach kindergarten, even though she hadn’t taught that grade level in thirty years. Plaintiff was again forced to take a medical leave of absence in the Fall of 2008. After returning to work, plaintiff received poor reviews and, ultimately, her contract was not renewed for the following year. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against defendant in 2009, asserting claims for discrimination based on medical condition / disability and failure to accommodate her medical condition / refusal to engage in the interactive process. Defendant moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The trial court found that defendant elected not to renew plaintiff’s teaching contract for the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason she failed to perform to the District’s teaching standards. The trial court further concluded that defendant accommodated plaintiff and engaged in an interactive process by changing her teaching assignment from fifth grade to kindergarten plaintiff objected to the fifth grade teaching assignment. Plaintiff appealed.
The appellate court disagreed, finding that plaintiff established a triable issue of material fact on her discrimination claim by presenting evidence supporting her theory that defendant changed her teaching assignments and failed to provide her the resources needed to succeed so it would have a basis for not renewing her contract. Additionally, the court found, defendant failed to show the second grade assignment plaintiff sought was not a reasonable accommodation or that the fifth grade or kindergarten assignments defendant offered were reasonable accommodations. Defendant also failed to meet its initial burden on the interactive process claim because it failed to present any evidence showing it engaged in an ongoing dialog with plaintiff regarding her requested accommodations.