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Wilson v. County of Orange

January 6, 2009

JULIE ANN WILSON, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTY OF ORANGE, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Derek W. Hunt, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. 06CC07401).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'leary, Acting P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Julie Ann Wilson appeals from a judgment in favor of her employer the County of Orange (the County). Wilson is a radio dispatcher at the Orange County Sheriff's Department's (the Department) county-wide emergency communications system. She sued the County under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code, § 12940, subds. (m) & (n)),*fn1 contending it failed to make reasonable accommodation for her medical condition that necessitated she avoid the most stressful aspects of her job. Specifically, Wilson had sought to be excused from staffing the pursuit desk, the communication channel that assists officers who leave their jurisdictions during a pursuit or emergency. Although the County accommodated Wilson in precisely the manner she sought, she contends it nonetheless violated FEHA by not providing her the accommodation earlier and by not initiating an "interactive process" sooner to determine whether she could be accommodated.

A jury returned a verdict in the County's favor. On appeal, Wilson contends the defense verdict is not supported by substantial evidence. We disagree and affirm the judgment.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Because the sole issue on appeal is whether substantial evidence supports the jury's verdict in favor of the County, we find it useful to preface our recitation of the facts with a statement of the standard of review.

When a party contends insufficient evidence supports a jury verdict, we apply the substantial evidence standard of review. (Bickel v. City of Piedmont (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1040, 1053, superseded by statute on another ground as noted in DeBerard Properties, Ltd. v. Lim (1999) 20 Cal.4th 659, 668.) "'[T]he power of [the] appellate court begins and ends with the determination as to whether there is any substantial evidence contradicted or uncontradicted which will support the [verdict].' [Citations.]" (Gray v. Don Miller & Associates, Inc. (1984) 35 Cal.3d 498, 503.) We must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, giving it the benefit of every reasonable inference and resolving all conflicts in its favor. . . ." (Jessup Farms v. Baldwin (1983) 33 Cal.3d 639, 660.) Needless to say, a party "raising a claim of insufficiency of the evidence assumes a 'daunting burden[,]' [citation]" (Whiteley v. Philip Morris Inc. (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 635, 678); one that simply has not been met in this case.

FACTS

Control One is a county-wide coordinated emergency communications system, which responds to all agencies, police departments, and public safety agencies in the County. It is the "mutual aid go-to facility for the County as a whole."

Inside the facility are five communication subconsoles (desks) running five communications channels-two "Purple Channels," one "Red Channel," one "Paramedic Desk," and one "Teleype Desk." The Paramedic Desk coordinates medical care for ambulances and medics. The two Purple Channels (Subconsoles One and Two) retrieve data for officers in the field. When an operator at one of the Purple Channels gets an officer request for information, he or she relates that request to the operator of the Teletype Desk, who obtains the information and gives it back to the Purple Channel operator. The Red Channel (Subconsole Three), also called the Pursuit Desk, assists officers when they leave their jurisdictions. It also carries county-wide broadcasts for missing persons, stolen vehicles, and robberies, and monitors various radio channels (traffic, public works, etc.) to relay information to officers throughout the County.

On each work shift there is a dispatcher at each subconsole (five total) and one supervisor. The typical shift is eight hours, but there are also 10-hour shifts (originally instituted to accommodate employees who want to work only four days a week). Department employees known as Communications Coordinator IIs (CCIIs) operate each of the Control One channels and provide backup to the other channels. The Red Channel is backed up first by the shift supervisor, next by one of the Purple Channel operators, and after that, if necessary, by one of the other operators. Each CCII is trained on and rotates staffing at all five channels so every CCII can maintain the skills needed to provide effective back up on any channel.

The Red Channel is generally the most stressful of the channels to operate. Historically, if a CCII was unable to effectively handle the Red Channel, he or she would be moved out of Control One and relocated to another job in the department. Each CCII usually staffed the Red Channel one time a week. However, the department also extensively utilized extra help employees, many of whom were only Communications Coordinator Is (CCIs). Some of those CCIs operated the Red Channel and some did not.

Wilson began working for the Department in 2001. After she was trained on all channels at Control One, she was promoted to CCII. Wilson suffers from a rare blood disease called anti-phospholidipid antibody syndrome. Also called "thick blood," the disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the blood to coagulate, causing thrombosis and blood clots. In 2002, Wilson was hospitalized for the condition and out on an extended medical leave. She returned to work and throughout 2003 continued to work on all channels, including the Red Channel once a week, and worked all shifts including the graveyard ...


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