City Settles Discrimination Case With Former BWP Worker

First published in the Oct. 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The city of Burbank has settled a lawsuit in which a former Burbank Water and Power employee alleged he was unlawfully fired after his managers refused to accommodate his disability.
Plaintiff Evan Ayers filed the settlement notice with the Burbank Courthouse on Oct. 6; he had filed the complaint against the city last Dec. 15. In court documents, Ayers claimed his superiors at city-owned BWP fired him after pressuring him to perform jobs that required him to climb or work at “dangerously high heights” despite his severe anxiety, fear of heights and vertigo.
In his suit, he alleged discrimination, harassment and failure to accommodate a disability, among other claims.
Details of the settlement have not been disclosed. Ayers had sought monetary compensation for wages lost and medical bills.
Ayers’ medical conditions, he said, sometimes escalated into severe anxiety and panic attacks that on some occasions led him to seek medical attention. He also alleged that he provided medical documents proving his disability and his need to be provided with a “bucket bin,” mini-lift or similar equipment when working at heights exceeding 30 feet.
However, according to Ayers’ complaint, his managers at the power plant demanded that he complete tasks involving heights without giving reasonable accommodations in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In one instance, Ayers alleged, his supervisor became upset when the worker objected to being required to perform a job at height, saying, “This is your job! If you don’t do it, why are you even here?”
Ayers claimed in court documents that as an apprentice electrician, he needed to work with the power plant crew only once to receive credit toward his goal of becoming a certified journeyman. Instead, he said, he was assigned there for several months before being fired in November 2019 after multiple negative performance evaluations. Those evaluations, Ayers claimed, said he was “continually disrupt[ing] crew of work” and “reluctant to accept assigned duties,” pointing to his need to show he could work at heights.
The city has not admitted to any of Ayers’ allegations. In February, its representatives filed a demurrer, a legal action that argues the plaintiff doesn’t have sufficient legal standing to sue; it does not address whether the complaints are factual.
“The parties came to a compromise before the case was really litigated,” City Attorney Amy Albano said in an interview. She added that both parties agreed early in the proceedings to bring in a mediator to discuss the case.
Ayers’ attorney did not return phone calls requesting comment.
The city’s attorneys argued in the demurrer that the alleged actions of BWP’s workers, as Ayers described them, do not necessarily indicate that they intended to cause him harm. The representatives also said that since Ayers’ apprenticeship required him to work at heights, ordering him to do so would not constitute “extreme and outrageous” conduct as he indicated in his claim of emotional distress.
“Though plaintiff attempts to characterize the actions of city employees, none of the facts pled in and of themselves indicate extreme and outrageous behavior intended to cause the plaintiff harm,” the city representatives wrote.
Ultimately, the two parties settled on the issue. Assuming the conditions of the settlement are fulfilled, according to court documents, the parties will seek the case’s dismissal by Dec. 6.