SACRAMENTOAn elderly state
worker with osteoporosis who broke her back in 2003 may get a larger disability
check under a court ruling Monday that raised questions about whether there is
age discrimination in the state's workers' compensation reforms.
The 3rd District Court of Appeal threw out a decision by
the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board that reduced 76-year-old Lois Vaira's
workers' compensation benefit by 40 percent, in part by claiming her loss of
bone density from osteoporosis made her more susceptible to injury.
The ACLU, AARP and other groups had challenged the board's
decision, saying it was wrong to side with the insurer, the State Compensation
Insurance Fund, in using an asymptomatic medical condition that often
accompanies aging to reduce benefits for a job-related injury.
The three-judge panel concluded that the specific payments
related to age and osteoporosis were not supported by evidence. The court also
said that apportioning payments based on age violates state antidiscrimination
The California Applicants' Attorneys Association, a group
of lawyers who represent injured workers, says reforms backed by Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger in 2004 have led insurers to reduce workers' compensation
benefits based on discriminating "risk factors," such as hypertension in black
men or bone density loss in women.
The court annulled the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board
decision and ordered Vaira's case back to the panel.