Disability Discrimination Claims By Salepeople Fired For “Not Meeting Goals”

fired for not meeting goals - disability discriminationA typical disability discrimination claim by a salesperson involves a situation where the employee was fired for not meeting goals due to, in whole or in part, his known medical condition / qualifying disability. The employer then terminates an employee and later argues that the termination was lawful, because meeting the sales goals of the company is an “essential function” of the job. Thus, if that employee wasn’t able to perform that essential function with or without accommodation, then terminating him didn’t violate the law, and the case should be dismissed. See Zamora v Services Specialists, Inc. (2021).

Claimants who find themselves facing the above argument by the employer in litigation should be aware of a number of important precedents that could help them survive a motion to dismiss, or even win their case on the merits:

“Evidence of ‘essential functions’ may include the employer’s judgment, written job descriptions, the amount of time spent on the job
performing the function, the consequences of not requiring employees to perform the function, the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, the work experiences of past incumbents in the job, and the current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.” Atkins v. City of Los Angeles (2017) 8 Cal.App.5th 696, 717–718. However, the fact that the duties listed in a job announcement are not conclusive— “an employer may not turn every condition of employment which it elects to adopt into . . . an essential job function, merely by including it in a job description.” Lui v. City and County of San Francisco (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 962, 977–978. This means that a written job description alone doesn’t determine which duties are essential in the context of a disability discrimination claim.

More specifically, one Federal Court noted that even though meeting or exceeding sales goals was part of the job description, it doesn’t make them essential to the Plaintiff’s position. Smith v. BBVA Compass Bancshares, Inc. (C.D. Cal., Mar. 31, 2021, No. EDCV191862JGBSHKx) [2021 WL 2497930 at pp. *10–11. In that case, testimony from the CEO and supervisors established
that the sales goals were “stretch goals” and that 65 to 70 percent of employees did not meet their goals, revealing that those goals weren’t in fact “essential job duties”.

An important distinction therefore has to be drawn between an employee’s ability to perform his job v an ability to meet certain goals, set by the employer, and how critical those goals are, given the employer’s overall operations and application of those goals to other workers. This is a highly factual inquiry, which requires careful assessment of various aspects of the position in question, duties, their relative importance to the employee’s overall job and to the employer, and other factors.

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