Court Finds that County of Los Angeles Discriminated Against Trainee Program Participants with Mental Health Disabilities
November 15, 2022 – Los Angeles, California—On November 4, 2022, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara Scheper denied the County of Los Angeles’ motion for summary judgment on all counts, and granted summary adjudication in favor of Plaintiffs in the case of Jane Doe and Mary Roe v. County of Los Angeles (Case No. 21STCV27868)—stating that the County’s so-called “interactive process” seemed to be a “sham,” and finding that it had completely failed to consider possible accommodations for Plaintiffs’ disabilities, as it was legally required to do. Read the Court’s minute order granting summary adjudication in favor of Plaintiffs here.
Plaintiffs filed this case in 2021, alleging that the County subjected them to an unlawful pre-employment psychological evaluation, withdrew their internship and job offers based on assumptions about their mental health, failed to consider possible accommodations in good faith, and otherwise discriminated against them on the basis of disability.
“Judge Scheper’s decision was based on overwhelming evidence that the County made no effort to explore possible accommodations for our clients, and it’s very clear that this was not an isolated occurrence,” says Staff Attorney Sean Betouliere.
“For years, the County has imposed the same boilerplate work restriction on any applicants it wants to disqualify because of a real or perceived mental disability. County employees admitted that when this boilerplate restriction is imposed, no accommodations are considered, no accommodations are discussed, and the decision that no accommodation is possible is made before the County’s legally required ‘interactive process’ meetings with applicants even occur—in blatant violation of its legal obligation to consider possible accommodations in good faith.”
Plaintiffs Jane Doe and Mary Roe, recent graduates of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, dedicated their entire graduate school educations to fulfilling the requirements of Los Angeles County’s “Masters of Social Work Trainee Program,” and fully intended to spend their careers serving the County’s most vulnerable children and families—including those who, like themselves, had experienced sexual abuse, assault, and other significant traumas.
While participating in this Trainee Program, Plaintiffs completed all required coursework, received glowing recommendations from their first-year internship supervisors and other relevant employers, and earned excellent marks from the experienced County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) employees who interviewed them in preparation for their second-year internship with DCFS. However, before Plaintiffs could begin those internships, the County subjected them to an invasive “pre-employment” psychological evaluation process—essentially identical to the one it uses for police officers—that is not used by any other children’s protective services agency in the United States, and that is expressly designed to identify and screen out applicants with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms or diagnoses.
Plaintiff Doe notes that she and Mary Roe asked the County over and over again to explain what its specific concerns were, so that they could try to address them: “The County refused to tell us anything, and basically just said ‘Your internship offer is withdrawn, goodbye.’ The County could easily have addressed any concerns it had—especially since DCFS Interns are very closely supervised, and can’t make any decisions about clients on their own—but it made absolutely no effort to do so.”
Ms. Roe concurs: “We went through a months-long process assuming that the County was going to work with us in good faith to address its concerns, but it never had any intention of doing that – its so-called ‘interactive process’ was a sham from beginning to end. We are so gratified that the Court recognized that, and we see this as a major step toward ensuring that other applicants never have to go through what we did.”
About Disability Rights Advocates: Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is a leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with all types of disabilities in complex cases aimed at achieving systemic change—including class action and impact cases on behalf of employees with disabilities.