Cornell v. Berkeley Tennis Club, 2017 WL 6524707 (Cal. Ct. App. 2017)

Ketryn Cornell is a severely obese woman (BMI > 50) who was fired from her job as a manager and tennis court washer for the Berkeley Tennis Club. Following her termination, she sued the Club for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate her disability, disability harassment, retaliation, wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Club, but the Court of Appeal reversed in part, holding that Cornell’s disability discrimination and harassment claims must be reinstated because her obesity may have a physiological cause. The Court further held that the legitimate nondiscriminatory business reason for the termination that the Club offered (Cornell had planted a tape recorder in an attempt to surreptitiously record a meeting of the board of directors) may have been pretext for her termination, which may in fact have been motivated by discriminatory animus against Cornell. The Court also reversed dismissal of the claims for disability harassment (based on evidence of a “negative weight-based message” by one of her supervisors); defamation (evidence of possible actual malice); and one of the three wrongful termination claims. However, the Court affirmed dismissal of the claims for failure to accommodate a disability (no evidence that the Club was aware that Cornell’s obesity had an underlying physiological cause); retaliation (the 2015 amendment to FEHA making a request for an accommodation protected activity is inapplicable); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (no extreme and outrageous misbehavior).