Hawaii Employment Law Decisions April 24, 2016 to April 30, 2016 – Jeffrey S. Harris

District court did not err by granting summary judgment against disability discrimination claim under California law.  Employer's policy of providing job protection and full pay up to 26 weeks after which disabled employee could apply for benefit for another 26 weeks was a neutral non-discriminatory policy, particularly because employee had taken earlier six month leave with certain accommodation.  Employer engaged in interactive process by advising employee to contact leave specialist, asking if there was anything it could do to assist return to work, ensuring employee understood if she did not return her job might not be available, communicating with her about progress, directing her to job posting board, putting her in touch with diversity manager, and after release offering her relocation.  California law does not require indefinite medical leave or holding a job open indefinitely.  Employee's doctors extended her leave repeatedly and did nothing to dispel employer's belief she would never return until three weeks before her return.  Stevenson v. Abbott Lab., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 7645 (9th Cir. April 27, 2016) (Hawaii and federal law may be more demanding; requiring employer to show lack of a fixed return date caused undue hardship).

Health plan properly removed participant's claim from state to federal court.  Participant claimed health plan was not entitled to reimbursement for her medical bills it paid from a settlement she reached with a third party for injuries she suffered from an accident with a large truck.  Employee Retirement Income Security Act completely preempted her claim.  Participant could have challenged health plan's reimbursement claim under ERISA.  Her claim implicated no legal duty she could enforce, let alone one independent from ERISA.  Noetzel v. Hawaii Med. Serv. Ass'n, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55785 (D. Haw. April 27, 2016).

Note: We analyze cases to learn rules the courts will follow or disappoint us if they don't. Rules that the courts follow allow us to behave and provide explanations they accept. But competent advocates may limit the rules to the facts of the case where they are discussed, or expand rules by showing that differences in other cases are irrelevant.