Monday, November 18, 2002
C.A. Upholds $400,000 Judgment for Disabled Controller’s Office Employee
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judgment awarding more than $400,000 to a longtime state employee who said he was turned down for a special investigator’s position with the State Controller’s Office solely because of a disability has been affirmed by the Third District Court of Appeal.
The state argued that it had substantial justification for not hiring J. Alan Cates, who worked for the office as an auditor for more than 20 years, as an investigator. But Justice Vance Raye, in an unpublished opinion Thursday for the Court of Appeal, said that Cates had presented substantial evidence of discrimination and retaliation, and that it was the jury’s prerogative to credit that testimony rather than the state’s contrary evidence.
Becoming an investigator was a career goal of Cates, who presented evidence that he spent eight years repeatedly requesting permission to attend the Basic Special Investigators Academy. Once he finally obtained approval, in 1994, he excelled, but he still was not hired as an investigator.
Cates said he had been lied to—that he was repeatedly told the academy is not offered in Northern California. In fact, it was offered in Sacramento five times between 1986 and 1991. And then when he completed the academy, he testified, he was bluntly told that he would not be hired because he has polio and is only 5’4” tall—the result of a childhood operation.
After he filed a disability discrimination complaint, Cates testified, he was subjected to a series of retaliatory actions despite his long and unblemished career in state service. He was ordered to cease all contacts with the law enforcement agencies he worked with for more than 10 years, he said; a class he was supposed to teach was canceled without explanation; and he was reprimanded for providing audit reports to the FBI suggesting widespread fraud in the Medi-Cal program.
When he responded to the reprimand, pointing out that he had followed departmental policy, he was banished to an audit division without any work to perform, he testified.
The Sacramento Superior Court jury awarded him $116,000 for economic losses, $175,000 in general damages on the discrimination claim, and $125,000 in general damages for retaliation.
Raye, writing for the Court of Appeal, said there was “compelling evidence” that the reprimand was groundless. An FBI agent testified that Cates was required by law to turn over the reports, and Cates’ supervisor said that Cates acted properly and that all of his activities were authorized, the justice noted.
Jurors, Raye went on to say, had reason to conclude that the state’s claim that there were no vacant investigator positions after Cates left the academy was a pretext for discrimination.
Not only was there evidence that Cates had been lied to about the lack of opportunity to attend the academy earlier, Raye explained, there was also testimony suggesting that the office’s then-chief investigator, who was responsible for the hiring decision, had recruited two other people to attend the academy in order to avoid being forced to hire Cates.
The discrimination against Cates after he returned from the academy, the justice added, was “blatant” and “ugly.” The evidence, Raye explained, suggested that when a vacancy occurred, the office opened an application process, but then suspended it rather than hire Cates, making clear “he would never become an investigator for defendant.”
This treatment, Raye said, “accomplished what the disability could not: plaintiff was humiliated.”
The case is Cates v. California State Controller’s Office, C36013.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company