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Appeals court rules for fired plaintiff in organ donation case

A California man who says that he was fired for requesting time off to donate a kidney to his sister has won in a long legal battle with his former employer. An appellate court has determined that he was a victim of what is called “associational” discrimination, which generally involves employees’ disabled family members who are covered under their insurance, at a significant cost to the employer. The plaintiff’s sister is disabled.

The plaintiff started working for the commercial dishwashing business Auto-Chlor System in the fall of 2010. He says that the kidney donation was already planned at the time he was hired as a branch manager, and that he inquired with his new employer about a medical leave of absence for the procedure. He says he was told that he could have an “unspecified” amount of time off without pay.

California’s new Donor Protection Act was scheduled to be implemented just a few months later, at the beginning of 2011. Under the law, a California employee must be allowed to take 30 days off with pay to donate an organ. However, the plaintiff did not last that long in his new job. He was fired just a couple of days before the beginning of the new year.

Although the termination was ostensibly performance-based, according to the suit, the plaintiff had been given “satisfactory” reviews of his performance. He claims that the company fired him so that they did not have to pay for his medical leave. The lower courts that heard his case found in the company’s favor, ruling that the new donor law “could not be applied retroactively.” However, the appeals court that heard the case disagreed.

Businesses need to be aware of impending changes to labor laws that could impact their employees. Whatever the truth of the matter was in this case, the timing of the plaintiff’s firing was certainly suspiciously close to the implementation of the new law that would impact him and the company. Further, as we have seen in so many wrongful termination cases, the allegations of poor performance were not backed up by the company’s own documentation. He was right to seek legal counsel and pursue action through the courts.

Source:  Workforce.com, “Legal Briefing: Court Rules on Termination of Employee Who Requested Job-Protected Leave” Marty Denis, James E. Hall and Mark T. Kobata, Dec. 16, 2013

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