California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC415094 Charles F. Palmer, Judge.
Konell Ruggiero & Konell, Cheryl Konell Ruggiero for Plaintiff and Appellant.
Carmen A. Trutanich, City Attorney, Paul L. Winnemore, Deputy City Attorney, for Defendant and Respondent.
KLEIN, P. J.
Plaintiff and appellant Frank Estrada (Estrada) appeals a judgment following a court trial in an action against the City of Los Angeles (the City) for disability discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code, § 12900 et seq.).
The essential issue presented is whether the trial court properly held that Estrada, formerly a volunteer Police Reserve Officer for the City, was not an employee for purposes of the FEHA.
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. The City’s policy decision to extend workers’ compensation benefits to these individuals, who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of the community, does not transform the volunteers’ status to that of “employee” for purposes of FEHA. Accordingly, the trial court properly concluded Estrada was not an employee and therefore could not maintain a cause of action against the City for disability discrimination. The judgment is affirmed.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 1990, Estrada became a reserve officer for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD or Department).
The Los Angeles Administrative Code (L.A. Admin. Code) provides that members of the Police Reserve Corps “shall be volunteer workers only and shall not be, or be deemed to be, employees of the City or of the Police Department for any purpose other than for the purposes of Section 22.233  of this Article and shall serve gratuitously except as provided in Section 22.230 of this Article.” (L.A. Admin. Code, § 22.227.)
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.”
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.”
In May 2005, Estrada was suspended from the Police Reserve Corps pending the outcome of the investigation of the personnel complaint. After being served with a notice of proposed disciplinary action, Estrada submitted a 139-page Skellyresponse asserting discrepancies in the investigation and proffering additional evidence to exonerate him. The administrative proceedings resulted in Estrada’s termination in December 2007, after 17 years as a reserve officer.
2. Superior court proceedings.
On June 3, 2009, 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 ...