Christine McKellar began her 16-year employment with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 2000. Cedars-Sinai terminated her employment in April 2016.
Before she was terminated, several of McKellar’s physicians authored a number of “to whom it may concern” letters sent to Cedars-Sinai attempting to excuse her from work for unspecified medical reasons. Several of them were written by Gayle K. Windman, Ph.D. from the office Dr. Thomas Curtis claiming she was disabled for “emotional stress complications.”One of them said she was disabled because of “EMOTIONAL STRESS COMP.”
Because none of the notes sent on McKellar’s behalf contained sufficient information to satisfy Cedars-Sinai’s leave policies, Cedars-Sinai sent McKellar a series of letters detailing the specific information it needed from her to process her request for leave.
McKellar received all of Cedars-Sinai’s letters, but never opened, read, or responded to any of them. McKellar requested no form of accommodation from Cedars-Sinai between her cessation of work on January 6, 2016 and her termination on April 20.
Ultimately Cedars-Sinai sent her a letter explaining that she had been “separated from employment.”
McKellar alleged in six causes of action that Cedars-Sinai retaliated against her for filing a workers’ compensation claim and discriminated against her based on her claimed disability.
Cedars-Sinai filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that it had a legitimate non-pretextual reason to terminate McKellar’s employment. The trial court granted the motion. McKellar appealed and the court of appeal affirmed in the unpublished case of McKellar v. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
To avoid summary judgment based on her proffered theory, McKellar needed to produce admissible evidence in the trial court that the decisions leading to McKellar’s termination were made on the basis of her disability or workers’ compensation claim.
The evidence McKellar relies on is that Cedars-Sinai sent five letters to a post office box. The necessary implication is that Cedars-Sinai should have attempted to contact McKellar some other way. The record, however, establishes that Cedars-Sinai did attempt to contact McKellar by telephone. McKellar had changed her telephone number because, she said, she did not want anyone at Cedars-Sinai to be able to contact her.
Cedars-Sinai had no obligation to reach out to someone other than its employee to determine whether that employee intended to comply with the company’s leave policy. McKellar’s argument assumes that McKellar could unilaterally require Cedars-Sinai to engage in the FEHA “interactive process” to determine effective reasonable accommodations with a representative McKellar designated without notifying Cedars-Sinai. That assumption is incorrect for a variety of reasons.