Garnett began working as a deputy sheriff for Defendant on June 7, 2008. In this position, Garnett worked in several different assignments, including as a patrol officer, Field Training Officer, on the Multiple Enforcement Team, as a Gang Enforcement Officer, and on the Inland Regional Narcotics Enforcement Team. From 2014-2017, Garnett utilized the outer load-bearing vest to carry his equipment for the majority of his work, while keeping just his gun on his duty belt.
In July 2018, Garnett was diagnosed with a back injury and placed off work.
In November 2018, Garnett was returned to work full duty and it was recommended that he utilize a load bearing vest. Subsequent doctors’ notes indicated that it was a medical necessity.
The Sheriff’s department failed to engage with Garnett in an interactive process and denied his requested accommodation. His supervisor took the position that because he didn’t have a restriction they did not have to accommodate him and emailed superiors saying she didn’t care about his note and he needed to grow something. Garnett then went to a Lieutenant who told him not to jump rank and likened making accommodations to painting police cars purple.
Garnett continued working while continuing to wear all of his equipment around his waist on a duty belt, which exacerbated his injuries, and eventually forced him to file for a disability retirement.
Garnett filed his Complaint on December 17, 2019, in Superior Court alleging disability discrimination, retaliation, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, failure to engage in a good faith interactive process, and failure to prevent discrimination and/or retaliation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (hereinafter “FEHA”), Cal. Gov. Code Section 12900 et seq. against Defendant.
Garnett defeated the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to failure to provide reasonable accommodation and failure to engage in a good faith interactive process.
Prior to trial Defendant refused to offer more than $25,000.00.
Discovery was complicated by Defendant taking the position that Garnett did not have the right to discovery as to alternative assignments that Garnett could have been reassigned to.
Garnett was deposed on five separate days, in addition to submitting to a Defense Medical Exam.
Trial commenced on September 18, 2023 before Judge Ochoa in Department 24 of the San Bernardino Superior Court. Judge Ochoa’s trial schedule was from 10am – 3:30pm. Opening statements were less than an hour. Most witnesses testified for less than an hour, confirming what we had learned in their depositions, that the Department could have accommodated Garnett in a variety of ways instead of forcing him into retirement. Both employees from the Civil Liabilities Division who were responsible for setting up an interactive meeting ended their testimony saying they could not explain or recall why no interactive was ever set up. During Garnett’s testimony the actual belt and vest were shown to the jury and Garnett explained how the equipment is utilized. Closing arguments were also at or under an hour.
On October 4, 2023, an empaneled jury reached a verdict on Garnett Sherman Garnett’s claims for 1) failure to provide a reasonable accommodation; and 2) failure to engage in the interactive process. The jury found in favor of Garnett as to his claims and awarded him $1,002,000.00 in compensatory damages.