Court of Appeal: No Reinstatement after 12 weeks of CFRA Leave

After taking 19 weeks of leave, the first 12 of which was covered under the California Family Rights Act, LA County reinstated Katrina Rogers, but then transferred her to a new job as a business decision. Rogers did not take the transfer well and sued under various causes of action, including the CFRA.  A jury awarded her damages and the county appealed.

The court first rejected Rogers' argument that the transfer amounted to "interference" with her rights under the CFRA:

Here, the following is undisputed—the County accorded Rogers the full 12 workweeks of leave to which she was entitled under the CFRA; Rogers did not return to work at the end of this period, but instead remained on leave for 19 weeks; and the decision to transfer her was made within the 12-week leave period, but never communicated to Rogers during her leave. Rogers nevertheless argues that she suffered interference with her CFRA rights because the transfer decision was made during her protected CFRA leave. But she cites no authority to support her position, which we therefore disregard. (Perez v. Grajales (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 580, 591–592.) Based on the foregoing, we conclude that Rogers’s right to reinstatement expired when the 12-week protected CFRA leave expired. Her CFRA interference claim therefore fails as a matter of law, and should never have been submitted to the jury.
Then the court turned to Rogers' claim that the transfer was "retaliation" for her exercising her rights. The court could not find any evidence that the county took its action because Rogers took leave, other than the fact that she took it and the transfer occurred thereafter:

In short, Rogers “failed to establish the requisite causal connection between her protected actions in taking a CFRA medical leave” and the decision to transfer her to another position. (Neisendorf, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at p. 519.) “The unchallenged finding that [the County] had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to [transfer Rogers], which had nothing to do with her CFRA leave, bars [Rogers] from articulating a cognizable cause of action for the jury’s consideration based on [the County’s] alleged refusal to honor the CFRA’s right to reinstatement.” (Id. at p. 520.) The Neisendorf court cited to several federal courts interpreting the FMLA that endorse this principle. (See e.g. Throneberry v. McGehee Desha County Hosp. (8th Cir. 2005) 403 F.3d 972, 979 [“‘As long as an employer can show a lawful reason, i.e., a reason unrelated to an employee’s exercise of FMLA rights, for not restoring an employee on FMLA leave to her position, the employer will be justified to interfere with an employee’s FMLA leave rights’”].) Like the Neisendorf court, we conclude that because the County’s “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the decision to transfer Rogers eliminated any obligation the County might have had to reinstate her, Rogers “could not state a valid claim under the CFRA.” (Neisendorf, supra, at p. 520.)
The decision is important regarding CFRA/FMLA leave, but it does not address reasonable accommodation obligations under the ADA/Fair Employment and Housing Act.  So, employers still need to consider reinstatement following extended leave when an employee has a covered disability and takes more leave than allowed under CFRA / FMLA.

The case is Rogers v. County of LA and the opinion is here.