School District Employee May Have Been Discriminated Against On The Basis Of A Disability
La Vonya Price worked as a part-time substitute special education aide at the Victor Valley Unified School District before applying for a full-time position. Although she received an offer for a full-time position, it was contingent upon her passing a physical exam, which she failed. Price sued for disability discrimination and related claims. The trial court granted the District’s motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeal reversed in part. The appellate court rejected the District’s argument that Price was not qualified to perform the job because she failed the physical examination and was unable to perform the essential functions of the job, such as running after students. The Court disagreed that running after students was an essential function of a full-time instructional assistant’s job especially given that Price worked in the same position in a part-time capacity before being offered a full-time position. Price also established that she could have been placed in a setting where special needs students do not require any physical assistance or supervision. Further, the Court determined that the comment (repeated four times) from the District’s Director of Classified Personnel that Price was “a liability” created a triable issue of material fact as to whether the District’s stated reasons for rescinding the job offer were pretextual. The Court also held that the District was under no obligation to engage in the interactive process with Price because her disability, resulting limitations, and necessary reasonable accommodations were not open and obvious (she denied having a disability or any limitations), which meant that she had the initial burden to initiate the interactive process and request a reasonable accommodation. Finally, the Court held that the retaliation claim was properly dismissed because the decision to terminate her employment was made before she allegedly engaged in any protected activity.