Bell v. Wells Fargo Bank
(Amicus) case on behalf of an HIV-positive man fighting for his right to sue for reasonable work accommodations
Andrew Bell, an employee of Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, was allowed for two years to work a four-day week, one day from home, to accommodate his needs as a person living with HIV. Though Bell was promoted to vice president during this time, new management decided to revoke the approval of his one day of telecommuting. Bell was unable to continue working without that work accommodation and had to file for disability. He sued Wells Fargo in state court, asserting that it discriminated against him in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act by failing to allow him to continue the work arrangement that was necessary because of his HIV-related illness. The trial court ruled that by accepting disability benefits, Bell had conceded he was unable to perform his job, and therefore he wasn’t allowed to challenge Wells Fargo over his work schedule. When Bell appealed, Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, the Western Law Center for Disability Rights, and Lambda Legal supporting Bell’s right to sue. Recognizing that the prior accommodation had allowed Bell not only to do his job but also to excel at it, the appeals court ruled that his application for disability benefits should not prevent him from fighting the employer’s refusal to accommodate his disability.
This issue is of great importance to people with HIV, who frequently need flexibility in their work schedules to accommodate their health needs. The successful appeal established in California that workers such as Bell who have applied for disability aren’t barred from asserting their right to reasonable work accommodations.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
Our brief for the appeals court supported Bell’s appeal by helping to demonstrate that people with disabilities should not be forced into a “Catch-22” of having to forego disability benefits in order to fight to get back their jobs or get damages for discriminatory employment decisions.
- December 1995 Bell files suit against Wells Fargo in state court.
- March 1997 The state trial court dismisses Bell’s complaint, after granting summary judgment in favor of Wells Fargo on all of Bell’s claims against the bank.
- February 1998 The state Court of Appeals hears Bell’s appeal.
- May 1998 The appeals court rules that Bell does indeed have the right to sue Wells Fargo.
- June 1998 The California Supreme Court declines to review the case, leaving the Court of Appeals decision intact.