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Katrina L. Rogers v. County of Los Angeles

August 16, 2011

KATRINA L. ROGERS, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Richard L. Fruin, Jr., Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC382187)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doi Todd , J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Reversed with directions.

After 19 weeks of medical leave, long-time employee Katrina L. Rogers returned to her job with the County of Los Angeles, only to learn that she was being transferred to another position in another department. She sued the County for violation of the California Family Rights Act of 1993 (CFRA) (Gov. Code, § 12945.2). Her claim had two components: (1) that the County interfered with her CFRA rights by transferring her to a noncomparable position, and (2) that the County retaliated against her for exercising her right to take CFRA leave. The jury returned a special verdict in her favor and awarded damages of $356,000.

The County appealed, contending that her interference claim was barred as a matter of law and that there was insufficient evidence to support her retaliation claim. We agree and reverse the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Rogers's Employment

Rogers worked more than 36 years for the County in various positions. Most recently, she was the personnel officer (or chief of special services) in the executive office, which was responsible for rendering administrative and other support services to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and its various commissions. Rogers supervised employees who performed personnel, payroll, and human resources functions for the board and the executive office. She considered it an honor and privilege to work with the County's governing body.

In early 2006, Rogers discussed retirement with her co-workers and her desire to spend more time with her grandson. She testified that she looked at the figures impacting her retirement "all the time." She met with the County's retirement plan administrators to determine how to maximize her retirement benefits, but had not actually planned for a retirement.

Rogers's Medical Leave

On April 3, 2006, Rogers took a medical leave due to work-related stress. Her medical provider, Dr. Paul L. Guidry, sent her paperwork to VPA, Inc., the County's third-party administrator responsible for handling personnel leave matters. On April 12, 2006, Rogers was sent a form "FMLA pre-designation letter" from one of her subordinates, Ernesto Gomez, assistant chief of personnel and special services. The cover letter stated that Rogers's leave was "pending approval from VPA of [her] Short Term Disability claim." The enclosed letter indicated that Rogers was being placed on leave due to a "serious health condition" that made her unable to perform the essential functions of her job. The letter explained that Rogers's "family/medical/CFRA leave started April 3, 2006" and would continue until the conditions of her leave changed or until her leave time was "exhausted." The letter also stated that she had "a right for up to 12 weeks of unpaid family/medical leave in a 12-month period." Checkmarks on the form letter indicated that she was eligible for leave, and that she would not be required to furnish medical certification or recertification, or periodic updates of her status or intent to return to work. VPA approved Rogers's leave pursuant to the County's short term disability benefits program, and she received these benefits, including payments, and other County benefits while on leave.

During her leave, Rogers testified that she saw Dr. Guidry about every three weeks, and that he told her that she could not perform her job duties because she could not think clearly and had headaches. Rogers testified that her stress resulted from "an attack on my integrity," and manifested in her crying at work, not being able to sleep or eat, and causing her blood pressure to become "out of whack." Dr. Guidry did not release Rogers to return to work until August 2006.

Changes in the Executive Office

Effective April 17, 2006 (after Rogers began her leave), Sachi A. Hamai was appointed executive officer. She testified that when she interviewed for the position, she presented her "vision of the organization to the Board of Supervisors," and that "[c]oming into the organization, there were a number of changes that were going to be made" to streamline the organization and make it run more efficiently. After her appointment, she interviewed numerous individuals, including most of the managers in the executive office, the commissioners, and the chief deputies of the five county supervisors "to elicit what the needs of our ...


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