When Jeff Schmeling’s TB test did not make it to his supervisor by the specified due date, he was fired. The California Department of Corrections thought the termination made perfect sense. The Third District Court of Appeals disagreed.
Schmeling knew that employees at the prison were required to submit annual test results indicating that they were not infected with tuberculosis. He was tested and assumed the nurse would forward the results to the powers that be. A month later, a lieutenant at the prison informed Schmeling that he was listed as a correctional officer who had not submitted test results. Three months passed, and Schmeling received a letter requiring him to take the test and submit results by a specified date a couple of weeks away. Schmeling complied, taking the test by the required date. Unfortunately for Schmeling, it took another two days for the results to be sent to him. In those intervening two days, he was terminated.
San Quentin’s View
Because tuberculosis is an infectious disease of the lungs, correctional officers must be free of the disease. TB tests ensure the health and safety of both prison employees and inmates. When an individual fails to undergo the required testing, it puts everyone at risk. After all, the legislature mandates this as one of many public health goals. The department was simply following procedure by firing an employee who had not complied with legal testing and reporting protocols.
An Eight-Year Battle
The issue was contended in various courts for eight years. Despite the court’s ruling in favor of a corrections officer in a similar case a couple of years earlier, The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) fought on, arguing that it had acted on behalf of safety concerns. The case was heard by administrative judges, the State Personnel Board, and various courts, who all saw the situation differently. Ultimately, though, the Sacramento Superior Court ordered the CDCR to reverse its decision to dismiss Schmeling. The judge found that the firing was unlawful, based on California’s law prohibiting the termination of state workers based on medical reasons. Yes, testing for TB may be required, but a medical standard may not be used to fire someone from state government work.
Unfortunately, that ruling came two years too late. Schmeling had already died of an aneurysm, meaning that his widow was entitled to nearly $500,000 in lost wages and interest.
Advocating for Employees
Employees sometimes feel too small to fight employers who make bad employment decisions. That is why HKM fights aggressively on behalf of employees who have suffered mistreatment of ham-fisted employers. If you have been terminated and question the legitimacy of the firing decision, contact us in Los Angeles for a confidential consultation.