Hello and thank you for entrusting me to answer your question. This is incredibly unfortunate to hear and I'm so sorry about your demotion.
Unfortunately, the laws in this area strongly favor the employer. It is, after all, the large corporations that have the money to lobby Washington and the state legislature.
Absent an employment contract guaranteeing
you employment for a specified period of time in your previous position, you are what is known as an "at will" employee. More specifically, California Labor Code Section 2922 provides that: "employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other."
What this means is that your employer is free to terminate you or demote you for any reason whatsoever, even a reason that is entirely unfair, unless the underlying motivation is discriminatory or otherwise in violation of California law.
Accordingly, an employee in this circumstance would have no legal entitlement to their previous position and rate of pay, unless one of the above-mentioned exceptions was satisfied.
You mention depression, and under certain very limited circumstances this can qualify as a "disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would entitle you to certain limited job protections.
The determination of what constitutes a qualifying disability is a complex issue, but in general, in order to have a “disability” you must have a mental or physical condition that “significantly impairs a major life activity,” be generally regarded as having such condition, and have a medically documented record of having such a condition.
According to the most recent Supreme Court decision, this analysis requires the courts to review whether the person is able to perform the tasks of daily living (washing, brushing teeth, fixing meals, housecleaning, etc.), and decide if the person is significantly more impaired in those tasks than other persons in the population who are not “disabled.” It also requires the courts to consider the person’s abilities with corrective devices, such as prostheses and medication, but may consider side effects that result from medication. For more information on what constitutes a qualifying disability, visit this link: http://www.ada.gov/qandaeng.htm
If a person is “disabled” in accordance with the ADA's definition, is having difficulty performing his/her job, and the employer knows that the reason for the difficulty is the employee’s disability, then the employer may have a duty to reasonably accommodate the employee, as long as it will not pose an undue burden on the employer to do so. In determining whether a reasonable accommodation is available, and would actually work in helping the employee do his/her job, both the employer and employee had required to talk to each other and consider each other’s ideas. An employee is not entitled to the accommodation he/she wants – he/she is only entitled to an accommodation that works.
If your depression qualified as a disability under the Act, your employer had reason to know of your depression and failed to first try to reasonably accommodate your condition before demoting you, a valid discrimination claim may exist. Otherwise, an employer in this circumstance would be free to demote you, despite the demotion being extremely unfair.
If you have any questions or concerns whatsoever regarding my answer, please do not hesitate to ask for clarification. I'm so sorry that I could not provide you with better news.
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