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Wrongfully Terminated From Hilmar Cheese

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McNicholas & McNicholas fights for employees subjected to disability discrimination

McNicholas & McNicholas, in conjunction with Kent | Pincin and Alexandroff Law Group, has filed a disability discrimination and unlawful termination lawsuit against Hilmar Cheese Company. The lawsuit alleges that the company has systematically and methodically engaged in discriminatory practices against people with medical disabilities since at least 2007. Our Los Angeles discrimination attorneys can help if you or your loved one was subjected to disability discrimination that led to a wrongful termination from Hilmar Cheese Company. Call today and learn more.

Do you have a discrimination/wrongful termination case against Hilmar Cheese Company?

If you worked for Hilmar Cheese Company, you may have a disability discrimination and/or wrongful termination claim if:

  1. You worked for Hilmar Cheese Company at any time since 2007 to the present;
  2. You were ordered by a doctor to take medical leave for a disabling or chronic medical condition;
  3. You were transitioned to a medical leave of absence by the company without engaging in any interactive process regarding accommodations; and/or
  4. You were denied selection for an open and funded position, therefore being effectively terminated the day after your FMLA protected leave ended.

If you believe you were subjected to discrimination by Hilmar Cheese Company because of your medical condition, disability, or request for FMLA or medical leave, don’t wait: call the Los Angeles discrimination lawyers of McNicholas & McNicholas today.


About our client’s experience with Hilmar Cheese Company

Victor Cruz, an employee of Hilmar Cheese Company, suffered with multiple chronic conditions which musculoskeletal system and caused chronic back pain, but was deemed a competent and capable employee. In November 2021, Cruz’s doctor “placed [him] off work as a result of his back injury. [Cruz] was placed off work for approximately three (3) months.… While he was on medical leave, [Cruz] consistently kept HILMAR apprised of his disabled status and medical treatment and provided information related to his projected return to work date.”

Cruz’s medical leave, protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), was due to expire on February 5, but based on his doctor’s orders, he could not return to work until February 17. He then requested accommodation (in the form of an extensive of his medical leave) from Hilmar so his job would remain open for an additional nine (9) working days.

Instead of granting this accommodation, Hilmar transitioned Victor Cruz to a medical leave of absence (MLOA) – a company policy that provided no job protections – and backfilled his job. Cruz was told that he could apply for another position within the company, but his applications were denied. As such, Cruz was effectively terminated on the day his FMLA protections ended, and when he applied for unemployment, his initial application was denied because Hilmar told the California Employment Development Department that he quit his job. (His benefits were instated when he appealed the decision.)

Crus filed his initial lawsuit in 2022, but our attorneys recently amended the complaint; during discovery, we identified that Hilmar’s discriminatory practices have been in place since 2007, and that it subjected many employees to these illegal employment practices.

How Hilmar discriminated against our client and potentially hundreds of other employees

Employees with disabilities, including medical conditions, are protected under Federal and California law. The lawsuit our Los Angeles discrimination lawyers filed on behalf of Victor Cruz alleges that Hilmar Cheese Company violated these laws repeatedly, methodically, and recklessly.

Violations of FEHA: Government Code §§ 12940, et seq.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides protections for individuals “from harassment or discrimination in employment because of… denial of family and medical care leave, disability (mental and physical) including HIV and AIDS… [and] medical condition,” among others. Per the lawsuit, Hilmar Cheese Company (herein “Defendants”) engaged in discrimination against our client, Victor Cruz (herein “Plaintiff”):

Plaintiff was in the protected class of persons based on his disability and/or perceived disability, and was one who engaged in protected activities contemplated by Government Code §§ 12940, et seq. Plaintiff is informed and believes that Defendants, and each of them, discriminated against him based on his disability and/or perceived disability, and for reporting and speaking out against wrongful and discriminatory treatment based on his disability, speaking out against improper conduct, and for generally attempting to protect and secure his rights and the rights of other under the FEHA.

The lawsuit also alleges that Hilmar:

knew of Plaintiff’s disabling physical condition and/or perceived disability and failed to provide Plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation for his disability and/or his perceived disability… [and] Instead, Defendant discriminated and retaliated against Plaintiff based upon his disability and protected activity, ignored his request to return to work without restrictions, failed to engage in a good faith interactive process with Plaintiff to determine whether a reasonable accommodation was needed or existed, and thereafter failed to hire, promote, transfer, or otherwise select Plaintiff for the positions for which he applied.

Discrimination in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act

Per the lawsuit:

The Unruh Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful to deny any person, on the basis of disability, full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in any business establishment of any kind whatsoever. (Cal. Civ. Code, § 51(b).) The FEHA prohibits any person from denying rights created by the Unruh Act or aiding, inciting, or conspiring in such denial. (Cal. Gov. C. § 12948.)

Defendants, and each of them, had a policy, practice, and procedure which intentionally and arbitrarily denied Plaintiff full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in a business establishment because of Plaintiff’s disability, and/or arbitrarily aided, incited, or conspired in such denial.

Failure to engage in the interactive process

Once of the tenets of both the FEHA and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the interactive process: “a discussion about an applicant's or employee's disability -- the applicant or employee, health care provider and employer each share information about the nature of the disability and the limitations that may affect his or her ability to perform the essential job duties.” Under both State and Federal law, employers must engage in this interactive process with employees who have requested accommodations. It also applies even when employees have not made a formal request. Per the County of San Luis Obispo, the interactive process may be triggered by any of the following scenarios:

  • Verbal or written request for the interactive process to begin by the disabled employee.
  • Verbal or written request for reasonable accommodation by the employee.
  • An employee tells their employer they are ill, and regularly misses work as a result.
  • A representative of an employee requests reasonable accommodation on their behalf (such as Spouse A calling the employer of Spouse B to inform the employer that Spouse B is ill or injured).
  • An employee files a workers’ compensation claim/sustains an injury at work.
  • A manager “observes barriers to the employee’s performance on the job.”
  • An employee’s doctor sends the employer work restrictions.

In the lawsuit, we allege that Hilmar never engaged in this interactive process to discuss accommodations.

How discriminatory practices led to wrongful termination

Hilmar’s medical leave policy clearly states that it does not provide job protections, and that all positions may be backfilled by the company. California and Federal laws allow businesses to do this to prevent undue hardship for the company. In other words, if the company would suffer without having an employee in that exact position, the company can hire a new employee to take the job vacated by the worker who is on medical leave.

However, Hilmar never engaged in any interactive process to discuss potential accommodations with our client. Instead, they backfilled his position and sent him a letter on February 17, 2022 – one day after Cruz informed Hilmar that he would not need ANY accommodations for his return to work on February 18 – stating “After reviewing your request and your work restrictions, work experience, qualifications, and requested accommodation, [HILMAR] concluded that no reasonable accommodation exists that would allow you to perform the essential functions of your job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.” In short, Hilmar informed our client that they had to remove him from his position because they could not accommodate him – even though they were told the day before that he didn’t need any accommodations at all, and could return to work full duty.

To this end, our client was effectively terminated from his position, retaliated against for seeking the additional time off for medical leave that was offered by Hilmar Cheese Company, and then given no assistance or preference when applying for a new position – including a job as an alpha lac operator, the exact job he had before taking FMLA and MLOA – within the company. Under Cal. Code Regs. tit. 2 § 11068:

The employee with a disability is entitled to preferential consideration of reassignment to a vacant position over other applicants and existing employees. However, ordinarily, an employer or other covered entity is not required to accommodate an employee by ignoring its bona fide seniority system, absent a showing that special circumstances warrant a finding that the requested accommodation is reasonable on the particular facts, such as where the employer or other covered entity reserves the right to modify its seniority system or the established employer or other covered entity practice is to allow variations to its seniority system.

(Emphasis ours)

As such, our Los Angeles wrongful termination attorneys allege that Cruz was terminated from his position, and denied access to a new position within the company, in direct violation of the law.

How a Los Angeles employment lawyer can help

McNicholas & McNicholas, Kent | Pincin, and Alexandroff Law Group are working together to seek justice for Victor Cruz, but we believe there could be potentially hundreds of former or current Hilmar Cheese Company employees who faced disability discrimination or were wrongfully terminated from their jobs. We are here to help you, too. Our attorneys know how to build a case against powerful companies who engage in these discriminatory practices. We can review your medical and work histories as well as the actions taken by your employer once your federally protected FMLA ended. Our successes include:

  • $5.9M for victims of workplace retaliation
  • $5.3M for a victim of race-based harassment, discrimination, and retaliation
  • $3.9M for a veteran who faced retaliation after testifying
  • $3.6M for a victim of sex-based discrimination
  • $3.59M for a victim of national origin-based harassment, discrimination, and retaliation
  • $1.5M for an employee with an accommodation claim

You don’t have to face this alone. Call McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP today to get the help you need.

Do you have a Los Angeles discrimination attorney near me?

McNicholas & McNicholas maintains two offices for your convenience:

Los Angeles
10866 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 1400
Los Angeles, CA 90024

Santa Ana
217 N Main St.
2nd Fl
Santa Ana, CA 92701

We also offer phone and video consultations. Act now: call 310-928-9840 and speak to a member of our legal team.

Learn more about filing a claim against Hilmar Cheese Company

McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP is fighting to protect workers. Our Los Angeles discrimination and wrongful termination lawyers can help. Call 310-928-9840 complete our contact form today to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.

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