In 1990, Frank Estrada became a reserve officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. As an applicant for the reserve officer position, Estrada acknowledged in writing that “As a member of the Police Reserve Corps, I am not a regularly salaried officer of the [Department] and am not entitled to compensation for services rendered as a Police Reserve Officer.” Although Police Reserve Officers are volunteers who serve gratuitously, the City deems these individuals to be “employees” for the limited purpose of extending them workers’ compensation benefits. Such benefits are not remuneration; rather, they help to make the volunteers whole, in the event they are injured while performing their duties.
In 1995, while on duty, Estrada was involved in a traffic collision and sustained leg and back injuries. In 1996, while on duty, Estrada again was involved in a traffic collision and injured his right shoulder. In both instances, he obtained workers’ compensation benefits and continued to receive benefits, as his injuries were not fully resolved.
In October 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) served a search warrant on Estrada’s nutritional supplement company, Body Basics, Inc. Thereafter, Estrada was the subject of a personnel complaint by the Department’s Internal Affairs Division. The personnel complaint alleged that while Estrada was off duty, he “inappropriately sold a product containing sildenafil citrate, the active ingredient of Pfizer’s trademark prescription drug Viagra.” Administrative proceedings following an investigation resulted in Estrada’s termination in December 2007, after 17 years as a reserve officer.
Estrada filed suit against the City, alleging: disability discrimination under FEHA (Gov. Code, § 12945.2, subd. (l)) (first cause of action); retaliation for filing workers’ compensation claim (Lab. Code, § 132a) (second cause of action); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) (third cause of action). Estrada subsequently withdrew the second cause of action, and the third cause of action was eliminated on demurrer. Thus, this matter proceeded only on the first cause of action, the FEHA claim.
The trial court determined “as a matter of law that [Estrada] could not prove the elements of his first cause of action for disability discrimination in violation of the [FEHA] on the ground that [Estrada] is not an employee for purposes of the FEHA.” Estrada appealed the decision claiming that the trial court erred in concluding the definition of “employee” for purposes of his FEHA discrimination claim is governed by the City’s civil service rules; a charter city, such as Los Angeles, cannot opt out of complying with state laws that address statewide concerns; FEHA defines “employee” broadly and looks to case law for a more useful definition; FEHA reflects matters of statewide concern and cannot be trumped by the City’s civil service rules; including the City’s police reserve officers within the definition of “employee” is consistent with the public policy expressed in FEHA and is reasonably related to the statewide concerns addressed in FEHA.
The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments and sustained the dismissal in the published case of Estrada v City of Los Angeles. In “order to recover under the discrimination in employment provisions of the FEHA, the aggrieved plaintiff must be an employee.” However, the statutory definition of ‘employee’ found at Gov. Code section 12926, subdivision (c), does not actually define who is an employee under the FEHA. The definition of ‘employee’ contained in FEHA regulations is more helpful. These were interpreted in the case of Mendoza v. Town of Ross (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 625, 632. Mendoza found “there is nothing within the FEHA or its legislative history evincing an intent to depart from the requirement that compensation of some sort is indispensable to the formation of an employment relationship.” Thus the Court concluded that “Estrada was a volunteer who served without remuneration. He was appointed to a volunteer position, rather than to a position in the classified civil service. Accordingly, Estrada was not an employee of the City.”