Man with cane requesting reasonable accommodation

Worker Wins $20 Million From San Francisco Marriott Marquis in Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

A San Francisco jury awarded a former Marriott Marquis employee $20 million in damages after finding that the hotel failed to provide reasonable accommodations for his disability. The verdict was announced in San Francisco Superior Court after a 13-day trial. The case highlights the important rights that workers with disabilities have when seeking accommodations in the workplace.

Daniel Callahan, a longtime concierge at San Francisco Marquis Marriott, faced an uphill battle after suffering a spinal cord injury in 2014. He had to use a prosthetic device and cane as the injury left him partially paralyzed. Due to medical work restrictions, Callahan required accommodations to carry out his job duties.

Callahan, 65, was a San Francisco Marquis Marriott employee for almost 30 years. He filed his lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court in May 2020. According to the lawsuit, the employer “generally accommodated” Callahan’s disability between 2015 and 2018. During those years, he could alternate between sitting and standing at his workstation while attending to hotel guests.

Callahan’s disability discrimination lawsuit centers on the aftermath of the hotel’s multimillion-dollar renovation in 2019. The project resulted in an altered concierge workstation that no longer had leg space underneath, leaving him unable to work without experiencing pain.

Callahan spent eight months asking his employer to adapt the workstation so that he could continue working even with his medical restrictions. However, Marriott refused to provide him with the requested accommodations despite multiple notes from Callahan’s doctors. Hotel managers reportedly did not allow him to sit while performing his job duties.

Callahan ended his employment at San Francisco Marquis Marriott in September 2019 as he could no longer continue working due to the pain and lack of modifications to his workstation. Marriott later claimed that the concierge position was eliminated during pandemic-related layoffs in 2020.  

The jury determined that Marriott failed to engage in a timely, good-faith interactive process to determine if reasonable accommodations could be made for Callahan. Marriott’s failure to accommodate his disability ultimately resulted in substantial emotional distress, leading to a $5 million award.

Moreover, the jury imposed punitive damages totaling $15 million, sending a clear message to employers about the consequences of neglecting disabled workers. Punitive damages are awarded in cases where an employer’s conduct is found to be egregious.

California has stringent laws in place to protect employees with disabilities from discrimination. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their physical or mental disabilities. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to allow disabled employees to perform their job duties unless doing so would cause undue hardship, such as excessive cost.

In Callahan’s case, the jury found that Marriott failed to meet its legal obligations under the FEHA. Employers must participate in an interactive process with employees who request reasonable accommodations. This involves engaging in discussions to find a solution that allows the employee to continue working. While the hotel chain claimed that concierge positions were eliminated in 2020, the jury’s decision suggests a deeper issue regarding the failure to accommodate Callahan after the 2019 renovations.

The verdict underscores the importance of upholding the rights of disabled employees, even during challenging times such as the pandemic. Workers with disabilities can often be productive in the workplace with reasonable accommodations such as a modified workspace, special equipment, altered schedule or job restructuring. When employers refuse to grant accommodations, however, loyal employees like Callahan are forced to leave the workforce.

Companies should be proactive in making necessary adjustments to the work environment to ensure that employees with disabilities can perform their job duties without undue hardship. Ignoring such responsibilities can result in significant legal consequences, as demonstrated by the $20 million award in Callahan’s disability discrimination case.

If you have experienced disability discrimination at work, you are not alone. While McCormack Law Firm was not involved with this lawsuit, we have experience representing workers in all kinds of employment disability discrimination cases.

Our skilled San Francisco employment lawyers are ready to help you pursue compensation. Contact McCormack Law Firm to discuss your situation. 

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