The Rancho Santiago Community College District (RSCCD) just blew $1 million dollars of taxpayer money fighting a ridiculous lawsuit that never should have happened in the first place. And the lawsuit came about because of complete and utter mismanagement at the RSCCD.
Plaintiff Marisa Hernandez worked for the Rancho Santiago Community College District on and off for a number of years without any complaints about her performance. In 2013, she was hired as an administrative assistant. During her one-year probationary period, her performance was to be evaluated at three months, seven months, and 11 months. At the completion of 12 months of probation, she would be considered a permanent employee.
Eight months into her probationary period and with the district’s consent, Hernandez went on a temporary disability leave to have surgery to replace a knuckle on a finger she injured while working for the district prior to her most recent hiring. She was scheduled to return to work on, or shortly after, the anniversary of her hiring date. The district, however, terminated her while she was on the approved leave, because her performance had not been reviewed, according to the Federal Court of Appeals.
Hernandez sued the RSCCD under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (the FEHA) (Gov. Code, § 12940, subds. (m), (n)), contending it failed to make reasonable accommodation for her medical condition and failed to engage in an interactive process. At the conclusion of the court trial, the court found in Hernandez’s favor and awarded her $723,746 in damages.
The trial court found the RSCCD could have accommodated her by extending her probationary period, by deducting the four months she was on disability leave from her probationary period, or by adding the time away from work to the probationary period, and, contrary to the district’s position, the RSCCD would not have been required to make Hernandez a permanent employee on the anniversary of her hiring. The district appealed, contending it had to terminate Hernandez’s probation and employment because if it did not, she would have become a permanent employee without having had her performance evaluated. But the Federal Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment.
The District’s termination of this employee will cost taxpayers up to $1 million when attorney fees are accounted for. Public schools terminate employees all the time, but it’s rare that terminated employees receive anything let alone $1 million.
What’s really disturbing about this case (read the 12 page decision at the very end) is the RSCCD appealed the decision after losing in the lower court and they were initially advised by counsel there could be liability for “disability discrimination” if the employee was terminated. Oops!
This is all part of the arrogance that empowers RSCCD Chancellor Raul Rodriguez and his cronies do whatever they please at taxpayer expense.
By the way the RSCCD Trustees were not even aware that the appeal had been overturned this past Thursday. As usual they were asleep at the wheel…
The Trustees make about $1,500 a month plus benefits and in return we get perhaps the worst Community College District management in Orange County. The good news is that RSCCD Trustees John Hanna, Larry Labrado and Phil Yarbrough are up for re-election this year. We can’t let them get a free ride again!