A counselor who worked for a Crenshaw District agency that helps recovering drug addicts was awarded nearly $2 million Thursday after a jury found she was wrongfully fired in 2015 instead of being given an equivalent position after taking leave to deal with physical and mental injuries.
The Lost Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for less than a day before finding in favor of 56-year-old Della Hill in her lawsuit against the Asian American Drug Abuse Program Inc., rejecting defense claims that the Palmdale woman lost her job because of a funding shortfall and that retaining her would have created undue hardship on the agency. The total award was $1.9 million, most of it to compensate Hill for her pain and suffering.
The panel also found that the AADAP acted with malice, oppression or fraud, triggering a second phase of trial to begin Tuesday on whether Hill is entitled to punitive damages.
Hill said after the verdict that she was pleased with the verdict and said she hoped it sends a message to management.
“There are a lot of people there who work really hard,” Hill said.
In her lawsuit brought in May 2015, Hill claimed she was the victim of disability discrimination, failure to accommodate her for her disability and failure to engage with her in the interactive process.
Defense attorney Richard Tricker said during final arguments Wednesday that AADAP lost $1.1 million in funding over a two-year period when Hill was fired.
Hill’s attorney told jurors his client took time off in 2015 to deal with an injured arm and depression and was due to return on March 23 of that year, but asked for additional time until April 11. Instead, according to plaintiff’s attorney Carney Sheering, AADAP fired Hill on March 31.
“This job was essential to Ms. Hill,” the lawyer said.
Sheering showed jurors photos of a smiling Hill when she was honored by the Lost Angeles County Board of Supervisors for her work in 2014. He then invited the panel to glance toward the plaintiff sitting in the courtroom, who he said is now thinner and looks markedly different.
“That’s the face of depression,” said Sheering, who contended that Hill was entitled to up to $4.7 million in damages, most of it for pain and suffering.
AADAP’s CEO could not give a single example of any effort the agency made to accommodate Hill and offer comparable employment after she returned from leave, Sheering said.
“She was a non-entity to him,” said Sheering, who alleged the agency repeatedly ignored state labor laws in Hill’s case despite being familiar with its obligations to its employees.
Sheering said Hill offered to get an early release date from her doctor to return to work if she could stay employed with AADAP, but that the agency refused.
–City News Service
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