Peerless Building Maintenance Inc., operates a janitorial services company with over 500 employees.
A neighbor told Miguel Alvarez that Peerless might be hiring people to clean offices and he might consider applying for a job. Alvarez went to Peerless’s office in Chatsworth and submitted a job application.
When he submitted his job application, Alvarez could perform the duties of a janitor and he had no work restrictions. He did not request, and did not require, any accommodation from Peerless.
Peerless had a practice of running background checks on applicants for janitor positions. The background checks included workers’ compensation claim histories.
Peerless did not call Alvarez and did not hire him. According to Peerless, this was because it had lost Alvarez’s job application and could not contact him. Alvarez did not contact Peerless to ask about the status of his job application. In May or June 2016, Alvarez took a position painting houses and doing construction work for another company.
Alvarez filed a civil suit against Peerless. The theory of his lawsuit was that he was perceived as having had a history of FEHA disabilities. Alvarez did not allege that he was presently disabled or even that he was perceived as being presently disabled.
Peerless moved for summary judgment which the court granted. The court of appeal sustained the dismissal in the unpublished case of Miguel Alvarez v Peerless Building Maintenance Inc.
The plaintiff has the initial burden of producing evidence that establishes a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, creating a presumption of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action.
While the employer’s knowledge of the employee’s disability can be inferred from the circumstances, knowledge will only be imputed to the employer when the fact of disability is the only reasonable interpretation of the known facts. Vague or conclusory statements revealing an unspecified incapacity are not sufficient to put an employer on notice of its obligations under FEHA.
Alvarez’s background check listed one worker’s compensation matter. It did not contain any further information or details about the accident, Alvarez’s injury, or the workers’ compensation case. There was no evidence to suggest it knew, should have known, or perceived that Alvarez had a disability or a history of disabilities.
Alvarez asserted that Peerless learned that he “had two injured discs in his lower back as a result of his prior work which prevents him from performing some major life activities, but would not have prevented him from working as a janitor.” In fact, however, the record contains no evidence that Peerless had information about Alvarez’s injured discs at any time before Alvarez filed his lawsuit.