Avila v. Continental Airlines, Inc., 165 Cal. App. 4th 1237 (2008)

Henry Avila sued his employer, Chelsea Food Services (a division of Continental Airlines), following his termination for excessive absences from work. Avila sued for disability discrimination and for violation of his rights under the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”). The trial court granted summary judgment to Continental, but the Court of Appeal reversed the summary adjudication of the CFRA claim. The Court affirmed dismissal of the disability discrimination claim on the ground that there was no evidence that Continental was aware of Avila’s alleged disability because the forms he submitted to the company did not contain sufficient information to put Continental on notice of his alleged disability – although the forms referenced Avila’s hospitalization they gave Continental no details about the reason for the hospitalization. Evidence that Avila told other employees (but not his supervisors) about his acute pancreatitis before his termination and that he informed the company after his termination of the nature of his illness did not save his claim. However, the Court reversed the dismissal of Avila’s CFRA claim in light of the fact that Avila did submit forms from Kaiser regarding his absence, which was sufficient to put Continental on notice that he might have been suffering from a “serious health condition” sufficient to trigger family medical leave rights under CFRA. (In a dissenting opinion (as to the reversal of the summary adjudication), Justice Kriegler noted that there was no evidence that Avila ever requested family leave under the CFRA or that the individuals who made the decision to terminate had any knowledge of Avila’s hospitalization.)