City of San Diego Sued for Disability Discrimination

For Immediate Release — November 12, 1997

For Further Information, Please Contact:
Linda D. Kilb, Esq.
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. (DREDF)
Berkeley, California
(619) 231-1058 ext 4803 (For Wednesday, November 12, 1997)
(510) 644-2555 (Permanent Contact Number)

Additional Plaintiff’s Counsel:
Jordan C. Budd, Esq. ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Inc. San Diego, California
Mark D. Rosenbaum, Esq ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Inc. Los Angeles, California
Jan M. Adler, Esq. Pamela M. Parker, Esq. Amber L. Eck, Esq. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP San Diego, California

City Employees With Mental Illness Excluded From Disability Benefits

Berkeley, California — A major disability discrimination lawsuit will be filed on Wednesday, November 12, 1997 in federal court in San Diego against the City of San Diego, alleging that the City illegally excludes persons with mental illness from the long-term disability (LTD) benefits plan that it offers to City employees. The suit will be filed by the Berkeley, California-based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF); the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties; the ACLU Foundation of Southern California; and the San Diego office of the law firm of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP. Brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the ADA) and similar California civil rights laws, the case is the first lawsuit in California to allege illegal treatment of persons with mental illness in a government employee LTD plan.

The filing will be announced at a press conference to be held at 10:30am on Wednesday, November 12, 1997 in the second floor conference room of One America Plaza, 600 West Broadway, San Diego, at which both the plaintiff and her attorneys will be available.

The plaintiff in the case is Jenny L. Badua, a 40-year-old former City employee who lives in Escondido, California with her husband and children. After several years of successful employment with the City, Ms. Badua was diagnosed with manic depression and placed on LTD leave in 1994. Under the 1994 terms of the City’s LTD Plan, because she had a “mental or nervous disorder related disability” Ms. Badua was only eligible to receive 24 months of LTD benefits. Had Ms. Badua had been diagnosed with a physical disability that prevented her from working she would be eligible to receive LTD payments until the age of 65.

The impact of the City’s discriminatory exclusion of persons with mental illness is intensified because City employees are ineligible for sources of disability and retirement income that are available to private sector workers. Moreover, in 1994, after the ADA went into effect the City changed its LTD policy to entirely exclude benefits for all mental disabilities, thus making the policy even more discriminatory towards persons with mental illness.

DREDF attorney Linda D. Kilb emphasizes that the lawsuit is focused on ensuring equal treatment and compliance with civil rights laws. “It is a fundamental civil rights principle that decisions should be made objectively, not on the basis of unfounded fears and stereotypes. To guard against prejudice, disability rights laws require insurers to affirmatively demonstrate correlations between disability and costs based on sound actuarial principles,” says Kilb. “In this case there is no such demonstration. The City has arbitrarily denied benefits to a catch-all group of persons with ?mental disabilities.’ The tragic result is that Jenny Badua, one of the almost 20% of Americans who will at somepoint be diagnoised with a significant, medically recognized depressive illness, is denied the income protection available to similarly situated City employees with physical disabilities.” Says Ms. Badua:

The financial consequences of the City’s actions have been devastating to my family, but the emotional impact has been equally great. The City waves diversity as a banner of different threads, each thread representing cultural, ethnic, gender and disability differences, woven together with the slogan ‘Diversity Brings Us All Together.’ My difference, however, is not woven into the design. I am the invisible thread left out of the banner. I am prepared to deal with my illness. What I cannot tolerate is the City’s discriminatory response to it.

Ms. Badua is being represented by law offices with demonstrated commitment to and experience with civil rights litigation. Staffed and Board-run by persons with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, DREDF is a non-profit law and policy center nationally recognized for its expertise in the interpretation of disability rights laws. The ACLU is nationally recognized for its expertise and efforts in defense of civil liberties and civil rights for all Americans. Also joining the representation is Milberg Weiss, a nationally recognized law firm specializing in complex litigation on behalf of consumers, shareholders and other aggreived individuals.