Worker’s FEHA Action Rejected in Case Arising Out of Flu Vaccine Refusal – Employment Law Weekly

Worker’s FEHA Action Rejected in Case Arising Out of Flu Vaccine Refusal

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center operates a nonprofit academic medical center in Los Angeles. Its total workforce exceeds 15,000 employees, including approximately 2,100 doctors and 2,800 nurses. Together, these employees provide medical care to thousands of patients per day and perform related administrative and operational functions.

Deanna Hodges began working for Cedars in 2000. Throughout her tenure, she worked in an administrative role with no patient care responsibilities. Her office was in an administration building Cedars owned about a mile from the main Cedars medical campus, though she occasionally visited the main medical campus in her capacity as an employee. A shuttle bus ran continuously between the main medical campus and the administration building, and many Cedars employees traveled between the two sites on a daily basis.

In 2007, Hodges was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. She stopped working for a year and a half to undergo treatment, which included chemotherapy. The treatment was effective to rid her of cancer but left her with lingering side effects. These included unspecified allergies, a weakened immune system, and neuropathy – damage to the nerves resulting in an ongoing “tingling sensation” in her fingers and toes. None of these side effects limited her ability to perform her job functions, and she successfully returned to work for Cedars in 2009.

As an administrative employee without direct patient contact, plaintiff was under no obligation to get a flu vaccine when she was hired or when she returned from cancer treatment in 2009. This changed in 2017. That September, Cedars announced a new policy requiring all employees, regardless of their role, to be vaccinated by the beginning of flu season. This was the latest expansion to Cedars’s longstanding efforts to limit employee transmission of flu, which had become more urgent in recent years following multiple patient deaths relating to flu.

The expanded 2017 policy aligned with the recommendation of the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “that all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza.”

Her doctor wrote a note recommending an exemption for various reasons, including her history of cancer and general allergies. None of the reasons was a medically recognized contraindication to getting the flu vaccine.

Cedars denied the exemption request. Hodges still refused to get the vaccine. Cedars terminated her. Hodges sued Cedars for disability discrimination. Her complaint contained six causes of action, each alleged as a violation of FEHA or the public policy it manifests.

The trial court granted Cedars’s motion for summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed in the published case of Hodges v. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center – B297864 (May 2023).

In her appellate briefing she identifies the elements of her prima facie discrimination claim as being those of a claim for physical disability discrimination. Citing Arteaga v. Brink’s, Inc. (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 327, 344-345, a physical disability case which recites the elements of her prima facie claim as follows: “that she (1) suffered from a disability, or was regarded as suffering from a disability; (2) could perform the essential duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodations[;] and (3) was subjected to an adverse employment action because of the disability or perceived disability.”

Plaintiff argues her cancer history and neuropathy amount to a physical disability because they “make it impossible for her to work as she cannot work as she cannot get vaccinated. Her disabilities limited her ability to safely receive the vaccine.” To be clear, plaintiff admits her cancer history and neuropathy in no way otherwise limited her ability to work in 2017.

In moving for summary judgment, Cedars introduced evidence that plaintiff was not disabled and could not prove she was disabled. It offered official guidance from the CDC and testimony from Dr. Grein that there were only two medically recognized contraindications for getting the flu vaccine. None of the conditions listed on her exemption form were recognized contraindications for getting the flu vaccine.

The court of appeal concluded that “Judgment was proper on plaintiff’s disability discrimination cause of action because she failed to produce evidence sufficient to create a fact issue concerning an essential element of her prima facie case, i.e., her claimed disability or the perception by Cedars of disability. We therefore need not address the other elements of plaintiff’s prima facie case.”

“Even if plaintiff had made a prima facie case for discrimination of any kind (e.g., physical disability, medical condition, or otherwise), summary adjudication of her disability discrimination cause of action would still have been proper because Cedars presented a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for her termination, and plaintiff fails to argue the reason was pretextual.”

Worker’s FEHA Action Rejected in Case Arising Out of Flu Vaccine Refusal

There are 0 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


More Posts

Send Us A Message

Skip to content