Gurdip Kaur started working at Foster Farms in 2001 and worked for nearly 15 years. From 2008 to 2016, Kaur worked as a yield monitor at Foster Farms’ Cherry Avenue plant, a chicken processing facility.
On April 24, 2013, Kaur slipped at work while wearing company-issued rubber boots; and she broke her left wrist. Prior to the injury, she had slipped because of these boots, and attempted to avoid slipping by requesting new boots. Kaur is originally from India, Band believed that she and other Indian employees at the plant frequently encountered difficulties in obtaining work-related gear, because they were Indian.
After a surgery to her broken wrist, she was restricted in the use of her left hand and wrist for work. She went back to her regular position as a yield monitor, with no modification in her duties, and complained that she needed light duty given the restrictions on using her left hand. She claims her request was never appropriately addressed by Foster Farms.
In May 2016, Foster Farms announced it would undergo a restructuring that would affect its Cherry and Belgravia chicken processing plants. The Cherry plant would lose 500 positions, while the Belgravia plant would gain 300. July 22, 2016, Kaur was terminated after numerous efforts to identify and train her for a job she could do at Belgravia. The sole reason for Kaur’s termination was that she “chose not to take the [one] accommodation” offered by the company (i.e., the pallet jack driver position); it was not a performance-related termination.”
In October 2017, Kaur filed a lawsuit against Foster Poultry Farms. The first five causes of action arose under FEHA: (1) discrimination on the basis of race/nationality and disability; (2) failure to provide reasonable accommodation; (3) failure to engage in an interactive process; (4) failure to take all reasonable measures to prevent discrimination; and (5) retaliation for asserting FEHA rights. The sixth cause of action asserted in the complaint was retaliation in violation of Labor Code section 1102.5.
Prior to filing the civil action she filed a petition against Foster Farms with the WCAB, asserting claims under Labor Code section 132a, which was litigated over three days, spread over the course of a year, before WCAB ALJ Debra Sandoval. On July 9, 2019 ALJ Sandoval denied the 132a petition.
Foster Farms then amended its answer in the civil case to assert an affirmative defense that all of Kaur’s disability-related claims were barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel based on the workers’ compensation ALJ’s ruling. It then moved for summary judgment on the basis of this affirmative defense.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Foster Farms, holding that the WCAB opinion barred Kaur’s disability-related and other claims under FEHA and Labor Code section 1102.5, and that Kaur’s race/nationality discrimination action was time barred. The Court of Appeal reversed in the published case of Kaur v. Foster Poultry Farms LLC F081786 (September 2022).
The primary issue on appeal is whether the decision by the WCAB denying Kaur’s 132a claim has a res judicata or collateral estoppel effect on the claims at issue in this civil FEHA action.
Kaur’s petition before the WCAB alleged that Foster Farms “[was] aware that [Kaur] had suffered a work place injury on April 24, 2013.” The petition further alleged that Foster Farms “did intentionally and by means of retribution [discriminate] against [her] and said discrimination was in response and in retribution for [her] claim of injury and her filing of her workers’ compensation claim for benefits.”
As to her disability discrimination claim the Court of Appeal noted that “Labor Code section 132a proscribes a relatively narrow range of discriminatory conduct by employers, while FEHA targets a much broader range of discriminatory conduct and imposes affirmative duties on employers as to disabled employees.”
And it went on to say that “Kaur’s FEHA claims for disability discrimination, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, and failure to engage in a good faith interactive process involve entirely different inquiries and issues than her claims under Labor Code section 132a and encompass a whole range of affirmative duties and other requirements applicable to the employer (e.g., continuing obligations to make reasonable accommodations and engage in an interactive process), as well as benefits that accrue to the employee (e.g., preferential treatment with regard to open positions), that have no relevance to a Labor Code section 132a proceeding.”
The Court of Appeal concluded that the WCAB’s decision on Kaur’s Labor Code section 132a claim does not have preclusive effect on Kaur’s disability related FEHA claims, and the trial court therefore erroneously granted summary adjudication in favor of Foster Farms.