CACI 2540 Disability Discrimination—Disparate Treatment—Essential Factual Elements

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

2540 Disability Discrimination—Disparate Treatment—Essential Factual Elements

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant] wrongfully discriminated against [him/her/nonbinary pronoun] based on [his/her/nonbinary pronoun] [history of [a]] [select term to describe basis of limitations, e.g., physical condition]. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1.That [name of defendant] was [an employer/[other covered entity]];

2.That [name of plaintiff] [was an employee of [name of defendant]/applied to [name of defendant] for a job/[describe other covered relationship to defendant]];

3.That [name of defendant] knew that [name of plaintiff] had [a history of having] [a] [e.g., physical condition] [that limited [insert major life activity]];

4.That [name of plaintiff] was able to perform the essential job duties of [his/her/nonbinary pronoun] [current position/the position for which [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] applied], either with or without reasonable accommodation for [his/her/nonbinary pronoun] [e.g., condition];

5.[That [name of defendant] [discharged/refused to hire/[other adverse employment action]] [name of plaintiff];]


[That [name of defendant] subjected [name of plaintiff] to an adverse employment action;]


[That [name of plaintiff] was constructively discharged;]

6.That [name of plaintiff]’s [history of [a]] [e.g., physical condition] was a substantial motivating reason for [name of defendant]’s [decision to [discharge/refuse to hire/[other adverse employment action]] [name of plaintiff]/conduct];

7.That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

8.That [name of defendant]’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

[Name of plaintiff] does not need to prove that [name of defendant] held any ill will or animosity toward [him/her/nonbinary pronoun] personally because [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was [perceived to be] disabled. [On the other hand, if you find that [name of defendant] did hold ill will or animosity toward [name of plaintiff] because [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was [perceived to be] disabled, you may consider this fact, along with all the other evidence, in determining whether [name of plaintiff]’s [history of [a]] [e.g., physical condition] was a substantial motivating reason for [name of defendant]’s [decision to [discharge/refuse to hire/[other adverse employment action]] [name of plaintiff]/conduct].]

New September 2003; Revised June 2006, December 2007, April 2009, December 2009, June 2010, June 2012, June 2013, December 2014, December 2016, May 2019, May 2020

Crowdsource Lawyers

Directions for Use

Select a term to use throughout to describe the source of the plaintiff’s limitations. It may be a statutory term such as “physical disability,” “mental disability,” or “medical condition.” (See Gov. Code, § 12940(a).) Or it may be a general term such as “condition,” “disease,” or “disorder.” Or it may be a specific health condition such as “diabetes.”

In the introductory paragraph and in elements 3 and 6, select the bracketed language on “history” of disability if the claim of discrimination is based on a history of disability rather than a current actual disability.

For element 1, the court may need to instruct the jury on the statutory definition of “employer” under the FEHA. Other covered entities under the FEHA include labor organizations, employment agencies, and apprenticeship training programs. (See Gov. Code, § 12940(a)–(d).)

This instruction is for use by both an employee and a job applicant. Select the appropriate options in elements 2, 5, and 6 depending on the plaintiff’s status.

Modify elements 3 and 6 if the plaintiff was not actually disabled or had a history of disability, but alleges discrimination because the plaintiff was perceived to be disabled. (See Gov. Code, § 12926(o); see also Gov. Code, § 12926(j)(4), (m)(4) [mental and physical disability include being regarded or treated as disabled by the employer].) This can be done with language in element 3 that the employer “treated [name of plaintiff] as if [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] …” and with language in element 6 “That [name of employer]’s belief that … .”

If the plaintiff alleges discrimination on the basis of the plaintiff’s association with someone who was or was perceived to be disabled, give CACI No. 2547, Disability-Based Associational Discrimination—Essential Factual Elements. (See Rope v. Auto-Chlor System of Washington, Inc. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 635, 655–660 [163 Cal.Rptr.3d 392] [claim for “disability based associational discrimination” adequately pled].)

If medical-condition discrimination as defined by statute (see Gov. Code, § 12926(i)) is alleged, omit “that limited [insert major life activity]” in element 3. (Compare Gov. Code, § 12926(i) with Gov. Code, § 12926(j), (m) [no requirement that medical condition limit major life activity].)

Regarding element 4, it is now settled that the ability to perform the essential duties of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation, is an element of the plaintiff’s burden of proof. (See Green v. State of California (2007) 42 Cal.4th 254, 257–258 [64 Cal.Rptr.3d 390, 165 P.3d 118].)

Read the first option for element 5 if there is no dispute as to whether the employer’s acts constituted an adverse employment action. Read the second option and also give CACI No. 2509, “Adverse Employment Action” Explained, if whether there was an adverse employment action is a question of fact for the jury. If constructive discharge is alleged, give the third option for element 5 and also give CACI No. 2510, “Constructive Discharge” Explained. Select “conduct” in element 6 if either the second or third option is included for element 5.

Element 6 requires that the disability be a substantial motivating reason for the adverse action. (See Harris v. City of Santa Monica (2013) 56 Cal.4th 203, 232 [152 Cal.Rptr.3d 392, 294 P.3d 49]; see also CACI No. 2507, “Substantial Motivating Reason” Explained.)

Give the optional sentence in the last paragraph if there is evidence that the defendant harbored personal animus against the plaintiff because of the plaintiff’s disability.

If the existence of a qualifying disability is disputed, additional instructions defining “physical disability,” “mental disability,” and “medical condition” may be required. (See Gov. Code, § 12926(i), (j), (m).)

Sources and Authority

Disability Discrimination Prohibited Under Fair Employment and Housing Act. Government Code section 12940(a).

Inability to Perform Essential Job Duties. Government Code section 12940(a)(1).

“Medical Condition” Defined. Government Code section 12926(i).

“Mental Disability” Defined. Government Code section 12926(j).

“Physical Disability” Defined. Government Code section 12926(m).

Perception of Disability and Association With Disabled Person Protected. Government Code section 12926(o).

“Substantial” Limitation Not Required. Government Code section 12926.1(c).

“[T]he plaintiff initially has the burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The plaintiff can meet this burden by presenting evidence that demonstrates, even circumstantially or by inference, that he or she (1) suffered from a disability, or was regarded as suffering from a disability; (2) could perform the essential duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodations, and (3) was subjected to an adverse employment action because of the disability or perceived disability. To establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff must show ‘ “ ‘ “actions taken by the employer from which one can infer, if such actions remain unexplained, that it is more likely than not that such actions were based on a [prohibited] discriminatory criterion … .” ’ ” …’ The prima facie burden is light; the evidence necessary to sustain the burden is minimal. As noted above, while the elements of a plaintiff’s prima facie case can vary considerably, generally an employee need only offer sufficient circumstantial evidence to give rise to a reasonable inference of discrimination.” (Sandell v. Taylor-Listug, Inc. (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th 297, 310 [115 Cal.Rptr.3d 453], original italics, internal citations omitted.)

“The distinction between cases involving direct evidence of the employer’s motive for the adverse employment action and cases where there is only circumstantial evidence of the employer’s discriminatory motive is critical to the outcome of this appeal. There is a vast body of case law that addresses proving discriminatory intent in cases where there was no direct evidence that the adverse employment action taken by the employer was motivated by race, religion, national origin, age or sex. In such cases, proof of discriminatory motive is governed by the three-stage burden-shifting test established by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973) 411 U.S. 792 [93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668].” (Wallace v. County of Stanislaus (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 109, 123 [199 Cal.Rptr.3d 462], original italics, footnote and internal citations omitted.)

“The three-stage framework and the many principles adopted to guide its application do not apply in discrimination cases where, like here, the plaintiff presents direct evidence of the employer’s motivation for the adverse employment action. In many types of discrimination cases, courts state that direct evidence of intentional discrimination is rare, but disability discrimination cases often involve direct evidence of the role of the employee’s actual or perceived disability in the employer’s decision to implement an adverse employment action. Instead of litigating the employer’s reasons for the action, the parties’ disputes in disability cases focus on whether the employee was able to perform essential job functions, whether there were reasonable accommodations that would have allowed the employee to perform those functions, and whether a reasonable accommodation would have imposed an undue hardship on the employer. To summarize, courts and practitioners should not automatically apply principles related to the McDonnell Douglas test to disability discrimination cases. Rather, they should examine the critical threshold issue and determine whether there is direct evidence that the motive for the employer’s conduct was related to the employee’s physical or mental condition.” (Wallace, supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at p. 123, original italics, footnote and internal citations omitted; cf. Moore v. Regents of University of California (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 216, 234 fn. 3 [206 Cal.Rptr.3d 841] [case did not present so-called “typical” disability discrimination case, as described in Wallace, in that the parties disputed the employer’s reasons for terminating plaintiff’s employment].)

“If the employee meets this [prima facie] burden, it is then incumbent on the employer to show that it had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its employment decision. When this showing is made, the burden shifts back to the employee to produce substantial evidence that employer’s given reason was either ‘untrue or pretextual,’ or that the employer acted with discriminatory animus, in order to raise an inference of discrimination.” (Furtado v. State Personnel Bd. (2013) 212 Cal.App.4th 729, 744 [151 Cal.Rptr.3d 292], internal citations omitted.)

“Although the same statutory language that prohibits disability discrimination also prohibits discrimination based on race, age, sex, and other factors, we conclude that disability discrimination claims are fundamentally different from the discrimination claims based on the other factors listed in section 12940, subdivision (a). These differences arise because (1) additional statutory provisions apply to disability discrimination claims, (2) the Legislature made separate findings and declarations about protections given to disabled persons, and (3) discrimination cases involving race, religion, national origin, age and sex, often involve pretexts for the adverse employment action—an issue about motivation that appears less frequently in disability discrimination cases.” (Wallace, supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at p. 122.)

“[Defendant] argues that, because [it] hired plaintiffs as recruit officers, they must show they were able to perform the essential functions of a police recruit in order to be qualified individuals entitled to protection under FEHA. [Defendant] argues that plaintiffs cannot satisfy their burden of proof under FEHA because they failed to show that they could perform those essential functions. [¶] Plaintiffs do not directly respond to [defendant]’s argument. Instead, they contend that the relevant question is whether they could perform the essential functions of the positions to which they sought reassignment. Plaintiffs’ argument improperly conflates the legal standards for their claim under section 12940, subdivision (a), for discrimination, and their claim under section 12940, subdivision (m), for failure to make reasonable accommodation, including reassignment. In connection with a discrimination claim under section 12940, subdivision (a), the court considers whether a plaintiff could perform the essential functions of the job held—or for job applicants, the job desired—with or without reasonable accommodation.” (Atkins v. City of Los Angeles (2017) 8 Cal.App.5th 696, 716–717 [214 Cal.Rptr.3d 113].)

“Summary adjudication of the section 12940(a) claim … turns on … whether [plaintiff] could perform the essential functions of the relevant job with or without accommodation. [Plaintiff] does not dispute that she was unable to perform the essential functions of her former position as a clothes fitter with or without accommodation. Under federal law, however, when an employee seeks accommodation by being reassigned to a vacant position in the company, the employee satisfies the ‘qualified individual with a disability’ requirement by showing he or she can perform the essential functions of the vacant position with or without accommodation. The position must exist and be vacant, and the employer need not promote the disabled employee. We apply the same rule here. To prevail on summary adjudication of the section 12940(a) claim, [defendant] must show there is no triable issue of fact about [plaintiff]’s ability, with or without accommodation, to perform the essential functions of an available vacant position that would not be a promotion.” (Nadaf-Rahrov v. The Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. (2008) 166 Cal.App.4th 952, 965 [83 Cal.Rptr.3d 190], original italics, internal citations omitted.)

“To establish a prima facie case of mental disability discrimination under FEHA, a plaintiff must show the following elements: (1) She suffers from a mental disability; (2) she is otherwise qualified to do the job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) she was subjected to an adverse employment action because of the disability.” (Higgins-Williams v. Sutter Medical Foundation (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 78, 84 [187 Cal.Rptr.3d 745].)

“At most, [plaintiff] alleges only that he anticipated becoming disabled for some time after the organ donation. This is insufficient. [Plaintiff] cannot pursue a cause of action for discrimination under FEHA on the basis of his ‘actual’ physical disability in the absence of factual allegations that he was in fact, physically disabled.” (Rope, supra, 220 Cal.App.4th at p. 659.)

“[Defendant] asserts the statute’s ‘regarded as’ protection is limited to persons who are denied or who lose jobs based on an employer’s reliance on the ‘myths, fears or stereotypes’ frequently associated with disabilities. … However, the statutory language does not expressly restrict FEHA’s protections to the narrow class to whom [defendant] would limit its coverage. To impose such a restriction would exclude from protection a large group of individuals, like [plaintiff], with more mundane long-term medical conditions, the significance of which is exacerbated by an employer’s failure to reasonably accommodate. Both the policy and language of the statute offer protection to a person who is not actually disabled, but is wrongly perceived to be. The statute’s plain language leads to the conclusion that the ‘regarded as’ definition casts a broader net and protects any individual ‘regarded’ or ‘treated’ by an employer ‘as having, or having had, any physical condition that makes achievement of a major life activity difficult’ or may do so in the future. We agree most individuals who sue exclusively under this definitional prong likely are and will continue to be victims of an employer’s ‘mistaken’ perception, based on an unfounded fear or stereotypical assumption. Nevertheless, FEHA’s protection is nowhere expressly premised on such a factual showing, and we decline the invitation to import such a requirement.” (Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 34, 53 [43 Cal.Rptr.3d 874], original italics, internal citations omitted.)

“[T]he purpose of the ‘regarded-as’ prong is to protect individuals rejected from a job because of the ‘myths, fears and stereotypes’ associated with disabilities. In other words, to find a perceived disability, the perception must stem from a false idea about the existence of or the limiting effect of a disability.” (Diffey v. Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept. (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 1031, 1037 [101 Cal.Rptr.2d 353], internal citation omitted.)

“We say on this record that [defendant] took action against [plaintiff] based on concerns or fear about his possible future disability. The relevant FEHA definition of an individual regarded as disabled applies only to those who suffer certain specified physical disabilities or those who have a condition with ‘no present disabling effect’ but which ‘may become a physical disability … .’ According to the pleadings, [defendant] fired [plaintiff] to avoid accommodating him because of his association with his physically disabled sister. That is not a basis for liability under the ‘regarded as’ disabled standard.” (Rope, supra, 220 Cal.App.4th at p. 659, internal citations omitted.)

“ ‘[A]n employer “knows an employee has a disability when the employee tells the employer about his condition, or when the employer otherwise becomes aware of the condition, such as through a third party or by observation. The employer need only know the underlying facts, not the legal significance of those facts.” ’ ” (Soria v. Univision Radio Los Angeles, Inc. (2016) 5 Cal.App.5th 570, 592 [210 Cal.Rptr.3d 59].)

“ ‘An adverse employment decision cannot be made “because of” a disability, when the disability is not known to the employer. Thus, in order to prove [a discrimination] claim, a plaintiff must prove the employer had knowledge of the employee’s disability when the adverse employment decision was made. … While knowledge of the disability can be inferred from the circumstances, knowledge will only be imputed to the employer when the fact of disability is the only reasonable interpretation of the known facts. “Vague or conclusory statements revealing an unspecified incapacity are not sufficient to put an employer on notice of its obligations … .” …’ ” (Scotch v. Art Institute of California (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 986, 1008 [93 Cal.Rptr.3d 338].)

“[W]e interpret FEHA as authorizing an employer to distinguish between disability-caused misconduct and the disability itself in the narrow context of threats or violence against coworkers. If employers are not permitted to make this distinction, they are caught on the horns of a dilemma. They may not discriminate against an employee based on a disability but, at the same time, must provide all employees with a safe work environment free from threats and violence.” (Wills v. Superior Court (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 143, 166 [125 Cal.Rptr.3d 1], internal citations omitted.)

“Requiring the plaintiff to show that discrimination was a substantial motivating factor, rather than simply a motivating factor, more effectively ensures that liability will not be imposed based on evidence of mere thoughts or passing statements unrelated to the disputed employment decision. At the same time, … proof that discrimination was a substantial factor in an employment decision triggers the deterrent purpose of the FEHA and thus exposes the employer to liability, even if other factors would have led the employer to make the same decision at the time.” (Harris, supra, 56 Cal.4th at p. 232, original italics.)

“We do not suggest that discrimination must be alone sufficient to bring about an employment decision in order to constitute a substantial motivating factor. But it is important to recognize that discrimination can be serious, consequential, and even by itself determinative of an employment decision without also being a ‘but for’ cause.” (Harris, supra, 56 Cal.4th at p. 229.)

“We note that the court in Harris discussed the employer’s motivation and the link between the employer’s consideration of the plaintiff’s physical condition and the adverse employment action without using the terms ‘animus,’ ‘animosity,’ or ‘ill will.’ The absence of a discussion of these terms necessarily implies an employer can violate section 12940, subdivision (a) by taking an adverse employment action against an employee “because of” the employee’s physical disability even if the employer harbored no animosity or ill will against the employee or the class of persons with that disability.” (Wallace, supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at p. 128.)

Based on Harris, we conclude that an employer has treated an employee differently ‘because of’ a disability when the disability is a substantial motivating reason for the employer’s decision to subject the [employee] to an adverse employment action. This conclusion resolves how the jury should have been instructed on [defendant]’s motivation or intent in connection with the disability discrimination claim.” (Wallace, supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at p. 128.)

“We conclude that where, as here, an employee is found to be able to safely perform the essential duties of the job, a plaintiff alleging disability discrimination can establish the requisite employer intent to discriminate by proving (1) the employer knew that plaintiff had a physical condition that limited a major life activity, or perceived him to have such a condition, and (2) the plaintiff’s actual or perceived physical condition was a substantial motivating reason for the defendant’s decision to subject the plaintiff to an adverse employment action. … [T]his conclusion is based on (1) the interpretation of section 12940’s term ‘because of’ adopted in Harris; (2) our discussion of the meaning of the statutory phrase ‘to discriminate against’; and (3) the guidance provided by the current versions of CACI Nos. 2540 and 2507. [¶] Therefore, the jury instruction that [plaintiff] was required to prove that [defendant] ‘regarded or treated [him] as having a disability in order to discriminate’ was erroneous.” (Wallace, supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at p. 129.)

“The word ‘animus’ is ambiguous because it can be interpreted narrowly to mean ‘ill will’ or ‘animosity’ or can be interpreted broadly to mean ‘intention.’ In this case, it appears [defendant] uses ‘animus’ to mean something more than the intent described by the substantial-motivating-reason test adopted in Harris.” (Wallace, supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at p. 130, fn. 14, internal citation omitted.)

“ ‘[W]eight may qualify as a protected “handicap” or “disability” within the meaning of the FEHA if medical evidence demonstrates that it results from a physiological condition affecting one or more of the basic bodily systems and limits a major life activity.’ … ‘[A]n individual who asserts a violation of the FEHA on the basis of his or her weight must adduce evidence of a physiological, systemic basis for the condition.’ ” (Cornell v. Berkeley Tennis Club (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 908, 928 [227 Cal.Rptr.3d 286].)

“Being unable to work during pregnancy is a disability for the purposes of section 12940.” (Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc. (2013) 213 Cal.App.4th 1331, 1340 [153 Cal.Rptr.3d 367].)

Secondary Sources

8 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Constitutional Law, §§ 1045–1049
Chin et al., California Practice Guide: Employment Litigation, Ch. 9-C, California Fair Employment And Housing Act (FEHA), ¶¶ 9:2160–9:2241 (The Rutter Group)
1 Wrongful Employment Termination Practice (Cont.Ed.Bar 2d ed.) Discrimination Claims, §§ 2.78–2.80
2 Wilcox, California Employment Law, Ch. 41, Substantive Requirements Under Equal Employment Opportunity Laws, § 41.32[2][c] (Matthew Bender)
11 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 115, Civil Rights: Employment Discrimination, §§ 115.14, 115.23, 115.34, 115.77[3][a] (Matthew Bender)
California Civil Practice: Employment Litigation § 2:46 (Thomson Reuters)