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An employer can now be held liable for disability discrimination even when it truly (but mistakenly) believes an employee cannot perform his or her duties.

In its recent decision in Wallace v. County of Stanislaus, the California 5th District Court of Appeal considered whether the County of Stanislaus could be held liable for disability discrimination when it placed a sheriff’s deputy on an unpaid leave of absence, based on the County’s mistaken belief the deputy was physically unable to perform his duties due to a disability.

In holding the County liable, the Court clarified that California law does not require an employee to show “ill will” where the employer takes action against an employee based on a mistaken belief as to the employee’s physical limitations. Rather, the Court made clear the cost of such a mistake should be borne by the employer, not the employee, regardless of the employer’s intent. This decision clarifies the responsibilities of an employer in evaluating a disabled employee’s ability to perform essential job functions, yet it further highlights that employees must be vigilant when interacting with an employer regarding disability accommodations-as well as the essential role legal counsel can play to ensure an employer’s compliance with their legal duties.

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