Lopez v. La Casa de Las Madres, 2023 WL 2534998 (Cal. Ct. App. 2023)

Gabriela Lopez worked as shelter manager for a non-profit organization that provides services to women and children who are victims of domestic violence. In September 2016, Lopez gave birth to a child; by December 17, 2016, Lopez had received the full four months of pregnancy-disability leave required by statute, including the concurrently running 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave. Lopez then submitted a work-status report from Kaiser which stated that Lopez should not return to work before January 14, 2017. Lopez later submitted another form signed by a “social worker at Kaiser specializing in mental health” stating that Lopez was suffering from a disability that necessitated two modifications to her work duties for an “unknown” period: (1) time off to allow Lopez to continue mental health treatment (group and individual therapy); and (2) flexible/shortened workdays if Lopez “finds the nature of the work or stress of the work overwhelming and triggering of severe anxiety/depressive symptoms.” La Casa notified Lopez that it was unable to accommodate the limitations proposed by her social worker and instead offered to briefly extend her leave and upon her return to work to temporarily assign her to a data entry specialist position. After Lopez failed to timely submit further information about her alleged disability, La Casa sent her a letter stating that La Casa considered Lopez to have “elected to discontinue her employment.”

Following a bench trial, the trial court found that Lopez failed to carry her burden of proving that she had a condition related to pregnancy; could perform the essential functions of the job; and was denied a reasonable accommodation. The trial court also determined that Lopez had failed to prove La Casa had discriminated against her based on a disability because she did not prove that she was otherwise qualified to perform the shelter manager job, given her need to avoid stressful duties. The Court of Appeal affirmed judgment in favor of La Casa.