Brown v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist., 2021 WL 631030 (Cal. Ct. App. 2021)

Laurie Brown, a teacher at Millikan Middle School, alleged she experienced chronic pain, which was allegedly caused by a new Wi-Fi system the school had installed.  Brown’s medical provider diagnosed her with “electromagnetic hypersensitivity sensitivity” (EHS).  Brown eventually quit, claiming she could not return to work “without being overcome with crippling pain.”  Among other things, Brown alleged discrimination based upon a physical disability, failure to accommodate her disability, and retaliation.  The trial court sustained the District’s demurrer to Brown’s complaint, but the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that Brown had sufficiently alleged a disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), even though at least two other (non-California) courts have held that EHS is not a recognized disability under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The Court also held that Brown had adequately alleged a cause of action for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for a physical disability.  However, the appellate court agreed with the District that Brown had failed to allege a failure to engage in the interactive process or that any adverse action was taken against her with discriminatory or retaliatory motive – in short, there was a “disagreement between the parties as to whether the Wi-Fi was causing her disability.”

In a stunningly candid concurring opinion, Justice John Shepard Wiley Jr., expressed concern that this is the “first court in the United States of America – a nation of over 300 million people – to allow a claim that ‘Wi-Fi can make you sick.’”  Justice Wiley continued:  “The law worries about junk science in the courtroom.  One concern is that a partisan expert witness can bamboozle a jury with a commanding bearing, an engaging manner, and a theory that lacks respectable scientific support…  It does not take much experience as a trial judge in Los Angeles to realize the use of expert witnesses has run riot.”  A potential solution?  Justice Wiley suggests the use of court-appointed experts pursuant to Cal. Evid. Code §§ 730-732 – “few judges have tried this option, though, because the parties never suggest it.”

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Photo of Tony Oncidi Tony Oncidi

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including…

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including litigation and preventive counseling, wage and hour matters, including class actions, wrongful termination, employee discipline, Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, executive employment contract disputes, sexual harassment training and investigations, workplace violence, drug testing and privacy issues, Sarbanes-Oxley claims and employee raiding and trade secret protection. A substantial portion of Tony’s practice involves the defense of employers in large class actions, employment discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination litigation in state and federal court as well as arbitration proceedings, including FINRA matters.

Tony is recognized as a leading lawyer by such highly respected publications and organizations as the Los Angeles Daily JournalThe Hollywood Reporter, and Chambers USA, which gives him the highest possible rating (“Band 1”) for Labor & Employment.  According to Chambers USA, clients say Tony is “brilliant at what he does… He is even keeled, has a high emotional IQ, is a great legal writer and orator, and never gives up.” Other clients report:  “Tony has an outstanding reputation” and he is “smart, cost effective and appropriately aggressive.” Tony is hailed as “outstanding,” particularly for his “ability to merge top-shelf lawyerly advice with pragmatic business acumen.” He is highly respected in the industry, with other commentators lauding him as a “phenomenal strategist” and “one of the top employment litigators in the country.”

“Tony is the author of the treatise titled Employment Discrimination Depositions (Juris Pub’g 2020;, co-author of Proskauer on Privacy (PLI 2020), and, since 1990, has been a regular columnist for the official publication of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of California and the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Tony has been a featured guest on Fox 11 News and CBS News in Los Angeles. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading national media outlets such as The National Law JournalBloomberg News, The New York Times, and Newsweek and Time magazines. Tony is a frequent speaker on employment law topics for large and small groups of employers and their counsel, including the Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”), PIHRA, the National CLE Conference, National Business Institute, the Employment Round Table of Southern California (Board Member), the Council on Education in Management, the Institute for Corporate Counsel, the State Bar of California, the California Continuing Education of the Bar Program and the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills Bar Associations. He has testified as an expert witness regarding wage and hour issues as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and has served as a faculty member of the National Employment Law Institute. He has served as an arbitrator in an employment discrimination matter.

Tony is an appointed Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission Board of Rights and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law and a guest lecturer at USC Law School and a guest lecturer at UCLA Law School.