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When Disability Discrimination Rises to Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Having to suffer disability discrimination is obviously hard on anyone. This is why the law allows victims of disability discrimination at work to recover for pain and suffering as well as many other damages. However, sometimes the circumstances of discrimination are so intolerable that a court will allow employees to recover under multiple legal claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

To prove a case for IIED a person must show that the harasser acted with 1) extreme and outrageous conduct 2) with the intent to cause emotional distress or reckless disregard at the probability of causing emotional distress 3) the person suffers severe or extreme emotional distress and 4) the conduct was the actual and proximate cause of the distress. Outrageous conduct means conduct that is so extreme that it is over the bounds of what is tolerated in our society. Discrimination and harassment can rise to the level of outrageousness, but it must be more than mere insults, annoyances, threats, or other small matters. Generally an employee needs to show a pattern of continuing violations that were also discriminatory.

The California Court of Appeals recently reviewed a case where an employee succeeded in a claim for IIED. In Martinez v. Rite Aid Corp. a former supervisor, Martinez, sued Rite Aid for multiple violations of California anti-discrimination law, including disability, sex, and age discrimination. Martinez suffered from depression, which she took medication to treat. She claimed that she was routinely harassed at work due to her depression, and also sexually harassed.

Martinez won a huge $1.1 million judgment at trial, as well as a $4.8 billion punitive damages award. Rite Aid appealed the decision. The California Court of Appeals found that Martinez was able to show that she had suffered intentional infliction of emotional distress because her supervisor routinely made derogatory remarks about her mental health by calling her crazy and stating that she needed to see a psychiatrist. Her supervisor also called her too old in front of customers, made inconvenient and unwarranted schedule changes and even made false complaints about her performance to get her fired. The Court of Appeals held that all together this was enough to warrant a finding of IIED.

Employers engaging in a pattern of discrimination are potentially liable for serious damages if they cause employees emotional distress. To learn more about your rights to a disability discrimination lawsuit or settlement contact the California employment attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. To schedule a free consultation call (858) 376-7390 today.

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