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Hastings Law Journal

Abstract

This Note addresses the practice in California state courts of applying federal precedent from cases under the ADA to resolve questions of statutory interpretation in state cases under FEHA. The author argues that this practice risks error because of the significant differences between California state disability law and federal disability law.

The discussion takes as its starting point two recent California appellate cases. In the first, Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corp., the California Court of Appeal addressed a matter of first impression under state law, but which had split the federal circuits. The author questions the Gelfo court's method of analysis in the course of agreeing with its result. Although the Gelfo court's result is correct under the employment provisions of FEHA, its holding is mainly supported by reference to federal precedent that the court found persuasive.

The second case, Green v. State, demonstrates the risk of error inherent in this method of analysis. In Green, the California Supreme Court applied federal precedent to resolve an issue that had split the state appellate districts. The author argues that the Court reached a result that is inappropriate under California disability law, even if it may be a correct reading of federal law. Moreover, the California Supreme Court's analysis in Green implicitly affirms the practice of mechanically applying federal precedent to California disability law questions, without any serious consideration of the possibility that California disability law may be materially different. A better approach, the author argues, would be to apply federal precedent only with great caution, recognizing the similarities between California and federal disability law, but always with an eye towards the significant differences between the two.

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