No Jobs, Inability To Work, Doom Corrections Officer’s Transfer Request

Celena Ramos was a corrections officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and was assigned to the Donovan correctional facility. Ramos worked in the Donovan Medical Transportation Unit.

At the end of September 2011, Ramos went on medical leave, citing anxiety and depression stemming from a sexual harassment issue. Ramos moved to Hanford, California, which is located more than 300 miles away from Donovan. Ramos asked the Department to transfer to a facility in Corcoran, 19 miles from where she lived. The Department denied her request.

In August 2013, Ramos’s physician released her to return to work as a corrections officer. Shortly thereafter, the Department approved Ramos’s transfer to its Corcoran facility because a position was available. However, as a matter of officer safety, the Department requires that corrections officers wear “stab vests” at all times while on duty. When Ramos returned to work in 2013, she was unable to wear a “stab vest” because it triggered her anxiety. The Department approved her request for a transfer to a lower paying civilian administrative position at Corcoran.

Ramos sued the Department, claiming that it had failed to reasonably accommodate her medical condition in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The California Court of Appeals recently rejected her lawsuit.

The problem, the Court found, was that at the time her original transfer requests were made, “no positions were available for transfer. The fact that, as Ramos points out, there was no written policy barring all transfers or that there was an elaborate process for reviewing transfers, in no sense undermines the official’s statement with respect to the circumstances at Corcoran. Thus, even if the initial transfer denials were material actions, they are not actionable because the Department was able to establish a legitimate nonretaliatory reason for them.

“This brings us to Ramos’s related claims that the Department failed to accommodate her and failed to engage in an interactive process with her. As the Department correctly points out, when her initial requests were made, Ramos was not able to return to work and there were no correction officer positions available at Corcoran. As we have discussed, shortly after she was able to return to work, her transfer to Corcoran was approved and her continuing disability was accommodated there by way of assignment to an administrative position. Given these circumstances, Ramos cannot show that the Department either failed to accommodate her medical disability or failed to engage in the required interactive process.”

Ramos v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 2017 WL 444820 (Cal. App. 2017).