Court of Appeal: Inadequate Notice of Disability But Sufficient Notice for CFRA Leave

The Court of Appeal decided that Continental Airlines management had insufficient notice that its employee, Henry Avila, had a covered "disability" under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The employer knew the employee had missed work because he was "sick," was hospitalized for three days, and that he presented a couple of slips from Kaiser putting him off work for short durations. The court, though, found it was undisputed that the employer did not know that the reasons for the absences amounted to a "disability" under FEHA. The plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim failed for the same reason.

However, the court held that Continental was on sufficient notice that the employee needed CFRA leave. Avila's merely calling in sick was not sufficient notice:
That plaintiff called in sick was, by itself, insufficient to put Continental on notice that he needed CFRA leave for a serious health condition. (See Gibbs v. American Airlines, Inc. (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 1, 9 [“an employee who calls in sick to work for several days while taking antibiotics for an apparent flu has not provided her employer with ‘notice sufficient to make the employer aware that the employee needs CFRA qualifying leave’”]; see also Stevens v. Department of Corrections (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 285, 292 [“in the context of leave for an employee’s own serious health condition, the mere notice that an employee seeks to use sick time is insufficient to place the employer on notice that the employee seeks CFRA-qualifying leave”] [dictum].)

Yet, the court held (2-1) that the employee's claim that he gave the Kaiser doctor's notes to an unidentified manager was sufficient to create a triable issue of fact that he sufficiently requested a CFRA leave. The employee's testimony was sufficient to require a trial as to whether the company had adequate notice that the employee was hospitalized for 3 days, sufficient to
constitute a "serious health condition" requiring leave. The dissenting justice believe that the employee did not make a sufficient request for leave.

The opinion in Avila v. Continental Airlines is here.