A 63-year-old kitchen worker who said she was forced to do her job in pain because the Los Angeles Community College District would not assist her in working with a hand injury was awarded nearly $3 million in damages Tuesday.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about a day before finding in favor of Anahit Shirvanyan of Glendale and granting her $2.9 million on her claims for failure to engage in the interactive process and failure to provide reasonable accommodations. The jury rejected her disability discrimination claim.
Lawyers for the LACCD maintained Shirvanyan never asked for work accommodations and that her bosses did not know she had a disability. They also contended that Shirvanyan abandoned her job as a kitchen worker at the Child Development Center at Los Angeles Valley College in December 2015.
Shirvanyan said outside the courtroom that she was pleased with the verdict. Asked if she would ever return to her old job, she replied, “Not after what they did to me.”
Anthony Nguyen, one of Shirvanyan’s attorneys, said he hoped the verdict will send a message to the college district that it should accommodate workers with injuries so they can continue with their jobs without suffering in the manner his client did.
According to her court papers, Shirvanyan and her family immigrated from Iran in 1998 in search of a better life and she always dreamed of working with children. She says she was hired at the licensed childcare facility at Valley College in Van Nuys in February 2007 and “was ecstatic at the opportunity to possible work with children.”
In 2012, Shirvanyan began experiencing pain in her right hand and arm, in part because of her constant lifting of heavy grocery items and kitchen equipment, and was diagnosed in 2014 with carpal tunnel syndrome, her court papers say. She claimed that after she complained to her boss about her pain, the supervisor responded by cutting her hours.
The same boss later asked Shirvanyan why she was wearing a splint on her hand, and ignored Shirvanyan’s request for help in pushing carts and moving heavy items, according to the plaintiff’s court papers, which allege her supervisor told her: “Nobody is obligated to help you because they have their own work to do.”
When Shirvanyan again asked her boss for help in September 2015, the supervisor replied, “I’m retiring soon and you should do the same,” according to Shirvanyan’s court papers, which allege that a new boss was similarly unsympathetic to Shirvanyan’s requests for help.
Shirvanyan’s daughter provided her mother’s boss with a doctor’s note in January 2016 requesting three months off to deal with her pain, but the plaintiff did not hear back from the LACCD, according to her lawsuit.
Shirvanyan Tuesday suffers from major depression and had lost much of the use of her right arm, her court papers stated.