In order to pursue a wrongful termination case in California, a Plaintiff must first obtain a right to sue letter from the DFEH or EEOC. A recent case out of the California Court of Appeals demonstrates that not complying with all the steps in a disability case can mean big trouble. In Dickinson v. Allstate Insurance Company a former insurance adjuster of Allstate, Eric Dickinson, suffered a stroke in 2004 which left him with a weakened left side; resulting in a limp and slurred speech. While on disability leave he requested training so that he would not fall behind in his work, but his supervisor denied this request. After returning to the job Dickinson requested accommodation to spend less time on the road because he would develop leg numbness, this request was also denied. Dickinson’s computer also malfunctioned requiring him to enter routine information manually. An audit of his cases showed that he had been mistyping phone numbers into the system. He was soon after terminated for falsifying company documents, which Dickinson maintained was an innocent mistake. Dickinson then sued his supervisor and Allstate for disability discrimination and a number of other harms. At trial the jury found that Allstate had committed disability discrimination by failing to accommodate or engage in the interactive process.
However, Allstate appealed the verdict claiming that Dickinson never filed a charge with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and never obtained a DFEH right to sue letter. The court of appeals agreed, because Dickinson provided no evidence that he ever received a right to sue letter from DFEH he could not prevail even if his claims were correct.
This is a very unfortunate case because, as the court pointed out, Dickinson could have simply reopened his case after getting a right to sue letter. However, he went through all the expense of trial just to find out that he did not comply with the first step.
The right to sue letter is a crucial first step to a disability discrimination lawsuit. It is not necessary to wait until the charge has been investigated to receive a right to sue letter. A right to sue letter can be requested immediately before DFEH even gets an opportunity to investigate the claims. Although, it is also important to note that wrongful discharge in violation of public policy claims can be brought regardless of whether a right to sue letter is requested.
Disability discrimination law is a complex area that involves both employment and tort law. Having experienced attorneys on your side can make your case much smoother. The employment discrimination lawyers of Cunningham Law, APC can help you if you have wrongfully discriminated against. To schedule a free consultation call (951) 213-4786 today.