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When on medical leave, become a bond trader. Or better yet, use the opportunity to start a career as an infomercial actor. It sounds unorthodox, but it’s just one facet of a decidedly unusual case that recently came up before a Southern California appeal court. In Chen v. County of Orange, 02 C.D.O.S. 1559, an assistant district attorney filed suit for marital status discrimination, gender discrimination, race discrimination and retaliation. The source of the claims was Victoria Chen’s own experience working for the Orange County DA’s office, where she alleged she was denied promotions and relegated to undesirable assignments. In his majority ruling rejecting these claims, Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice David Sills appeared bewildered by certain aspects of the case. “It appears to have never occurred to Chen that maybe, just maybe, she was wrong,” Sills writes at one point. Chen began her career at the Orange County DA’s office in 1990. She left for maternity leave in 1995, and stayed out for another two years for unclear medical reasons. Under cross-examination she admitted to having earned about $100,000 a year as a bond trader during that time and to have acted in a couple of commercials. After a short stint back at the DA’s office in 1997, she took a medical leave for stress. During this leave, Chen requested a promotion, telling a manager that “if she got the promotion, she’d be back. But ‘if not,’ she would ‘probably be stressed out for a while longer.’” Turned down for the promotion, and a subsequent request, Chen amended an existing discrimination suit she had already filed against the DA’s office to include retaliation. The court didn’t buy it. “If anything, given Chen’s checkered work record, her willingness to subordinate her deputy district attorney’s job to her bond trading and nascent acting career, and the malleability of her purported ‘stress’ (on when convenient, possibly off when convenient), the only rational conclusion is that a promotion over more senior and available attorneys would have been undeservedly favored treatment.” Chen’s marital status discrimination claim was met with equal incredulity. And the appeals court upheld the jury verdicts against her race and gender discrimination claims. But despite the court’s overall skepticism, it refused to classify Chen’s case as frivolous. This means that Chen doesn’t have to pay the defendants’ attorney fees. That’s no small victory, considering that even the court doesn’t know whether Chen is currently bringing home a weekly paycheck. “The record is unclear as to what Chen’s current status is — for all we know she may still be out on indefinite stress leave.”

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