New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Disability Discrimination

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Earlier today, New Jersey’s Appellate Division ruled that an employee is entitled to a trial to determine whether her employer fired her because it incorrectly perceived she was unable to perform her job due to an actual or perceived disability, obesity. The case largely turns on whether the employer’s physician relied on an accurate description of the physical requirements of her job.

New Jersey school sued for disability discriminationBarbara Sheridan worked as a custodian for the Egg Harbor Township Board of Education. Egg Harbor was concerned whether Ms. Sheridan could perform her job based on the fact that she was short of breath and her face was flushed after she performed certain more strenuous job duties. The school district also was concerned that Ms. Sheridan was unable to climb ladders, had trouble climbing stairs, and was a risk that she would injure herself or otherwise performing her job duties.

The school district sent Ms. Sheridan for a fitness for duty exam with an independent physician, who concluded she physically was incapable of performing all of her job duties. Relying on those conclusions, the school board fired Ms. Sheridan.

Ms. Sheridan sued. In her lawsuit, she alleges she adequately performed her job duties for more than 8 years, and asserts that Egg Harbor’s decision to fire her constitutes perceived disability discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

Egg Harbor filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the trial court to dismiss her case. The court granted the motion, finding the physician’s fitness for duty report provided the school board a non-discriminatory reason to fire Ms. Sheridan, and Ms. Sheridan could not show it true motive for firing her related to a discriminatory animus against obese workers.

On appeal, New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed. In Sheridan v Egg Harbor Township Board of Educ., the court concluded that the school district had a legitimate basis to require Ms. Sheridan to attend the fitness for duty exam. However, it found a factual dispute about the accuracy of the job description that the physician relied upon in concluding Ms. Sheridan was unfit for duty. For example, although the job description indicated that custodians must be able to lift more than 75 pounds for 50 yards, an earlier version of the job description for the same position set the requirement at 50 pounds. The appellate court also noted that Ms. Sheridan’s supervisor testified that custodians need to lift objects weighing 75 pounds only twice per year. The court recognized that a reasonable juror could find the 75 pound requirement “is not a fair or realistic physical expectation to have for a school custodian,” and that the job description the physician relied upon may not have accurately reflected the actual requirements of her job.

The Appellate Division also observed that the fitness for duty exam did not test whether Ms. Sheridan was able to climb ladders, even though that was one of the primary concerns that led Egg Harbor to request the exam. Moreover, it explained that the basis for the district’s belief that Ms. Sheridan could not climb a ladder may have been based on her supervisor’s statement that she “would break the ladder so [she] should stay off [of] it.”

In short, the Appellate Division found there were numerous reasons to question whether Ms. Sheridan’s failure to meet certain aspects of the fitness-for-duty exam “fairly and accurately reflected an inability to perform her daily work tasks capably.” Accordingly, it concluded there are factual disputes that need to be resolved by a jury, and remanded the case for a trial.

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In my previous article, Employer Must Provide Job Description So Employee Can Assess Need for Reasonable Accommodation, I discussed a case which addresses an employee’s right to a reasonable accommodation for a disability. The same case also demonstrates the power of direct evidence of discrimination.

Judge Ruling in Disability Discrimination CaseDirect evidence is evidence that directly reflects the employer’s discriminatory motive. For example, it can include a statement by the employer that it fired the employee for a discriminatory reason.

Ordinarily, at a trial the employee has the ultimate burden to prove that a discriminatory factor such as age, race, gender or disability made a difference in the employer’s decision to fire her. However, if the employee can present direct evidence of discrimination, then the employer has the burden to prove it did not discriminate against her.

As I previously discussed, Bertolotti v. Autozone, Inc. involves Penelope Bertolotti, a Regional Human Resources Manager for AutoZone, Inc. Ms. Bertolotti requested a medical leave for her disability, gastroparesis. As a result of her medical condition Ms. Bertolotti took two weeks’ off in October 2012, returned to work for a week, and then requested an additional month off. Her doctor subsequently extended her return to work date to February 1, 2013.

In the meantime, on December 12, 2012, AutoZone sent Ms. Bertolotti a letter which indicates that her leave of absence was not covered by the Family Medical Leave Act. The same letter stated that AutoZone was replacing her, but would “attempt to place [her] in an available position” when she is ready to return to work.

In his opinion, the judge found this letter is direct evidence of disability discrimination. He explained that, based on the letter “a reasonable jury could find that Defendants’ decision to remove [Ms. Bertolotti] from her position as Regional HR Manager was motivated by [her] inability to return to work because of her medical condition.”

Accordingly, the Court ruled that at a trial Ms. Bertolotti will not have to prove AutoZone fired her because of her disability. Rather, AutoZone will have to prove its decision to replace her was legally justified. More specifically, AutoZone will have to prove Ms. Bertolotti’s disability prevented her from adequately performing her job duties, thereby justifying its decision to fire her.

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey explained that when a jury decides whether AutoZone reasonable believed Ms. Bertolotti’s disability prevented her from performing her job, the relevant question is what AutoZone knew and expected at the time it decided to remove her from her job, not what it subsequently learned. In other words, AutoZone violated the law unless, when it made the decision to replace her in December 2012, it had a reasonable belief that she would be unable to perform her job duties by February 1, 2013. In making that determination it is irrelevant whether, in hindsight, Ms. Bertolotti actually would have been able to return to work in February, or at any subsequent date, since that could not possibly have been something AutoZone considered when it made the decision to replace her.

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The New Jersey Appellate Division Court recently considered the standard for discharging an employee based on a “perceived disability,” and in so doing reversed a grant of summary judgment to the defendant. In Grande v. Saint Clare’s Health System, the Court applied the standard established in 1998 in Jansen v. Food Circus Supermarkets, Inc., which provides that in evaluating whether an employee can remain in a position despite having a disability, the standard is “whether the handicapped person can do his or her work without posing a serious threat of injury to the health and safety of himself or herself or other employees.”  This “requires the employer to conclude with a reasonable degree of certainty that the handicap would probably cause such an injury” before it can fire an employee.  According to the Court, in determining whether the employee “poses a materially enhanced risk of serious injury . . . [p]robability, not mere possibility, is key.”

In this case, the plaintiff, Marianne Grande, worked as a nurse for the defendant employer, St. Clare’s Health System, for approximately ten years. During her last three years of employment, she suffered three injuries at work, two injuries to her shoulder and one to her back.  Following her back injury, she took family and medical leave followed by personal leave.  While on leave, the plaintiff’s physician cleared her to return to work full time without any restrictions.  Despite such clearance, the defendant required her to participate in a “functional capacity evaluation test,” to assess her ability to, for example, lift certain objects and move in certain ways.  In her role as a nurse, she worked with stroke victims and sometimes was required to move patients.

Hospital sued for disability discriminationWhen the evaluation was completed, it provided for some restrictions.  At this time, the plaintiff’s doctor allowed her to return to work in accordance with the restrictions set forth in the hospital’s evaluation.  That same day, however, the hospital discharged the plaintiff indicating it could not accommodate her disability given the restrictions set forth in the evaluation. Approximately one month after her discharge, the plaintiff’s doctor cleared her to return to work, again without restrictions.  Notwithstanding such clearance, the hospital declined to rehire her.

In reaching its decision, the Court highlighted a number of facts.  For instance, it considered that the criteria applied in the evaluation differed from the plaintiff’s actual job description. For example, there were different lifting requirements assessed in the evaluation as compared with her job description. The Court also noted that the plaintiff’s doctor cleared her to return to work approximately a month after her discharge.

In reversing the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in this disability discrimination case, the Court focused on a statement in the evaluation that the final decision regarding the plaintiff’s ability to return to work was to be deferred to her treating physician. The Court found that such disclaimer raised a sufficient question as to whether the hospital had a reasonable degree of certainty that the plaintiff could not perform the essential functions of her work as a nurse without posing a serious threat of injury to herself, her co-workers or her patients. The Court held that it was for the jury to consider the value of the evaluation conducted on behalf of the hospital and the opinion of the plaintiff’s physician.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ashrafi focused on the fact that the plaintiff had been injured at work several times in a three-year period.  The dissent argued that given the history of the plaintiff’s work-related injuries, the Court should not be permitted to second-guess the hospital’s decision and its concerns about employee and patient safety.

As this was a 2-1 decision, whether there will be further appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court remains to be seen.

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A recent employment law case from the District of New Jersey demonstrates that you might be entitled to time off from work for a disability under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) even if you are not protected by the Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

Colleen Pizzo worked as a custodian for the Lindenwold Board of Education. Ms. Pizzo suffers from bipolar depression. She took several days off from work for depression after her girlfriend and coworker died in February 2012. A few months later she took approximately 6 weeks off for depression pursuant to the FMLA. She continued to take additional time off due to her depression after she returned from that medical leave.

Depressed businesswoman denied reasonable accommodation for disabilityBy March 2013, Ms. Pizzo had taken 12 weeks of FMLA leave during the previous 12 months. She asked the Board to allow her to use “sick bank,” meaning sick leave donated by her coworkers, so she could take time off for “work-related stress.” The Board ignored her request.

According to Ms. Pizzo, on March 21, 2013 she called out sick. Although she apparently needed this time off due to her depression, she did not say that when she called out. Ms. Pizzo remained out of work, and on March 28, 2013 the Board fired her. It claimed she said she did not know when she was going to return to work and it could not permit an “indefinitely” leave of absence.

Ms. Pizzo sued, claiming the Board fired her in violation of the FMLA and the LAD. Both parties eventually moved for summary judgment, asking the judge to enter a judgment in their favor.

In Pizzo v. Lindenwold Board of Education, the court dismissed Ms. Pizzo’s FMLA claims. It recognized a factual dispute about whether Ms. Pizzo was entitled to an additional 12 weeks of FMLA starting on January 1, 2012. However, it ruled that even if she still had FMLA time left in March 2012, since she did not mention depression or any other serious health condition when she called out sick on March 21, her request was “inadequate to alert [the Board] that she was invoking her FMLA rights.” Accordingly, the court concluded that request for time off was not protected by the FMLA.

The judge also dismissed Ms. Pizzo’s claim that the Board discriminated against her in violation of the LAD by firing her because of her disability, bipolar depression. Among other things, it found no evidence to disprove the Board’s explanation that it fired Ms. Pizzo because she requested an indefinite leave of absence. Although the LAD can require employers to permit employees to take time off from work as a reasonable accommodation for a disability, they are not required to permit indefinite medical leaves.

However, the court refused to dismiss Ms. Pizzo’s claim that the Board violated the LAD by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for her work-related stress. Specifically, the Board failed to engage in an “interactive process” to discuss what accommodation Ms. Pizzo needed for this disability. In fact, it did not even communicate with her about her request until March 21, the day on which it both denied her request and fired her.

Similarly, the court did not dismiss Ms. Pizzo’s claim that the Board fired her because she requested this accommodation. It explained that firing an employee because she requested an accommodation for a disability would be retaliation in violation of the LAD. It noted that Ms. Pizzo requested this accommodation on March 16, 2012, and the Board denied her request and fired her only 16 days later. The court found that based on this close timing between Ms. Pizzo’s request for an accommodation and the Board’s decision to fire her, especially when combined with the Board’s failure to engage in the interactive process, would permit a jury to conclude the Board retaliated against Ms. Pizzo in violation of the LAD.

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A recent disability discrimination opinion from the District of New Jersey reflects the relatively low burden an employee has to meet to have his case decided by a jury.

Damian Melton, a Type I diabetic, worked as a doorperson for Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City for approximately six years.  Due to his medical condition, Resorts granted Mr. Melton an intermittent leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and did not require him to work the graveyard shift as a reasonable accommodation for his disability.

Hotel Doorman Disability DiscriminationIn August 2010, Mr. Melton injured his shoulder, necessitating surgery.  When he returned to work a few months later the hotel assigned him to a light duty job as a valet cashier.

Around the same time, the company that owned Resorts went into foreclosure.  Another company, DGMB Casino, LLC, agreed to purchase the hotel.  All of the hotel’s employees received notices from Resorts informing them their employment was being terminated as of December 1, 2010.  They also received notices from DGMB inviting them to apply for jobs with it.

Mr. Melton applied for numerous jobs, including doorperson, but DGMB did not hire him.  Instead, it hired six doorpersons, five of whom previously worked for Resorts and a sixth who had not.

Mr. Melton sued, claiming DGMB failed to hire him in violation of both the FMLA and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).  The employer filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the trial judge to dismiss his LAD claim.  It argued Mr. Melton could not prove he was objectively qualified to perform his job, which is a requirement to prove a discrimination claim.  Specifically, it claimed he did not have the physical ability to work as a doorperson.

In analyzing this issue, the judge explained it is necessary to determine the essential job functions of a doorperson.  This has to be decided on a case-by-case basis, considering factors including which job duties the employer considers essential, what is stated in the written job description, how much time employees spend performing each function and the consequences if an employee is unable to perform the function.

Mr. Melton argued he is objectively qualified to perform his job because he was worked for Resorts as a doorperson for six years and received positive reviews from his supervisors and customers.  The Court noted that due to his shoulder injury, Mr. Melton was unable to work as a doorperson when he last worked for Resorts and needed a light duty position.  However, it recognized this was a temporary accommodation while his shoulder healed, and found he presented sufficient evidence to establish he was qualified for the job.

DGMB also argued Mr. Melton was not qualified for the job because he did not have enough flexibility with his work schedule since he cannot work the graveyard shift.  It claimed this was important since there are only six doorpersons who have to cover the job 24 hours per day, seven days per week.  However, Mr. Melton presented evidence that most of the other doorpersons work regular set schedules.  Based on this, the judge ruled there is enough evidence for a jury to find Mr. Melton is qualified for the job.

Finally, the judge found there is enough evidence for a jury to find DGMB did not hire Mr. Melton because of his disability.  The company claimed it did not hire him because he had poor job performance and a negative attitude in the past, and offered some evidence to support these claims.  Nonetheless, the Court relied on the positive reviews Mr. Melton received from his employer and customers.  It found this was enough to allow a jury to question the company’s explanation and to conclude his disability was the real reason DGMB chose not to hire him.  Accordingly, in Melton v. Resorts International Hotel, Inc., the Court denied the company’s motion for summary judgment.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because they are disabled.  It defines a “disability” as a physical or psychological impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.  As a result, not every impairment is a disability.  In contrast, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), the New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) all have significantly broader definitions of the term “disability” including relatively minor mental and physical impairments.

in officeLate last month, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that an impairment that prohibits an employee for sitting for too long can be a disability even under the ADA.  The employee, Carmen Parada, worked for Banco Industrial de Venezuela, C.A.  Approximately six months after she started working for the bank, Ms. Parada fell and hurt her back.  As a result, she no longer is able to sit for a prolonged period.  According to one of her medical reports, she is able to sit for only 15 minutes before she has to stand.

Ms. Parada asked the bank for an ergonomic chair which she believed would have allowed her to perform her job.  The bank did not respond to her requests so she asked again, this time offering to pay for the chair herself.  When she still did not receive any response she told the bank she could not continue to perform her job without a new chair.  When the bank’s Operations Manager finally told Ms. Parada he would discuss her request when he returned from a business trip she complained to the Compliance Officer and requested a leave of absence.  Ultimately, the bank fired Ms. Parada, claiming she failed to provide sufficient documentation to prove she was disabled and needed a medical leave, and declaring it considered her to have abandoned her job. 

Ms. Parada sued, claiming the bank committed disability discrimination in violation of the ADA, the NYHRL and the NYCHRL.  However, the District Court dismissed her ADA claim, ruling she was not disabled under it based on an earlier case, Colwell v. Suffolk County Police Department.  That case found a police officer who was unable to sit or stand for “too long” was not disabled for purposes of the ADA.

On appeal, the Second Circuit reversed.  It distinguished Colwell by explaining the employee in that case was too vague about his physical limitations.  It ruled that employees do not have to prove they are completely unable to sit to establish they are disabled with respect to the major life activity of sitting.  Rather, the relevant question is whether the employee is substantially impaired in his or her ability to sit in comparison to the average person.

The court further explained that the ADA requires employers and courts to make that determination on a case-by-case basis.  As a result, it would be improper to set a bright-line rule that only employees who are unable to sit at all are substantially impaired with respect to sitting.  In doing so it recognized that, under the right circumstances, even an employee who merely cannot sit for an extended period time could be disabled under the ADA.

Applying that law, in Parada v. Banco Industrial de Venezuela, C.A., the Second Circuit reversed the District Court’s order dismissing the case.  It instructed the lower court to analyze Ms. Parada’s impairments to determine whether her back injury meets the ADA’s definition of a disability.

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Earlier this month, a federal judge in New Jersey ruled that Bryan Maher can proceed with numerous employment law claims against his former employer, Abbott Laboratories.

Mr. Maher began working for Abbott in June 2008 as a Senior Distribution Specialist. In 2009, his sales numbers declined. By June the company began requiring him to participate in weekly one-on-one telephone coaching sessions. It also received several complaints from Mr. Maher’s customers. By late August 2009, the company placed Mr. Maher on an informal coaching plan and warned him he could be fired if his sales did not improve.

Disability discrimination -heart issue.jpgIn October 2009, Mr. Maher was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat) which was exacerbated by workplace stress. The company granted his request to take four days off from work for testing.

Mr. Maher continued to receive complaints from his customers, and his sales results did not improve. Eventually, the company began to prepare a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

On approximately February 10, 2010, Mr. Maher requested a short medical leave because he was feeling ill due to stress at work. He also reminded his boss that his son is autistic. According to Mr. Maher, his boss responded by saying “I don’t give a sh*t about your stress, your heart, and I hate to say it but your son either. We need sales and we need numbers.” As a result, Mr. Maher did not take a medical leave. Shortly thereafter, Abbott formally placed him on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

In March 2010, Mr. Maher took two weeks off from work because he needed to care for his autistic son and his own health issues. In the meantime, Abbott received several additional complaints from his customers. Ultimately, on May 11, 2010, the company fired him for “poor performance.”

Mr. Maher then filed a lawsuit, claiming Abbott discriminated against him because he is disabled and because of his association with his disabled son, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). He also alleged Abbott failed to provide him a reasonable accommodation for his disability and retaliated against him because he requested one.

Abbott eventually filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to dismiss Mr. Maher’s case. In Maher v. Abbott Laboratories, the Court dismissed portions of Mr. Maher’s claim that Abbott failed to accommodate his disability. For example, it dismissed a claim relating to his request for vacation time in June 2009 because Mr. Maher did not indicate he needed the time off because of a disability. It also dismissed his claim related to his request to transfer his New Jersey sales territory to another salesperson because (1) he did not tell anyone at Abbott he wanted this change because of his disability, (2) employers are not required to provide accommodations that would waive an essential job function, and (3) the accommodation would have imposed an undue hardship on Abbott’s business. The Court also dismissed Mr. Maher’s allegation that he was entitled to take two weeks off in February 2010 as a reasonable accommodation for his son’s autism since neither the ADA nor the LAD requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for a family member’s disability.

However, the Judge permitted Mr. Maher to proceed with his claim that Abbott failed to accommodate his disability when he asked for time off for his own medical condition in February 2010. The Court found Mr. Maher requested a reasonable accommodation when he made this request since the company knew he had a heart condition and knew he wanted the time off because of it. The Judge concluded his boss’s hostile reaction could lead a jury to conclude Abbot refused to even consider accommodating Mr. Maher’s disability, in violation of the ADA and the LAD.

Further, the Court found the same evidence could support the conclusion that Abbott fired Mr. Maher because he requested an accommodation for his disability. Although the company claims it fired him for poor job performance, a jury could find this was a pretext (excuse) for disability discrimination. The Judge explained this conclusion is further supported by the fact that the company fired Mr. Maher only three months after his boss’s hostile reaction to his request for time off. It also pointed to evidence that many of the performance issues the company used to justify firing Mr. Maher may have been caused by the company’s poor policies and procedures rather than by anything he did wrong.

Ultimately, the Court ruled a reasonable jury could find the company had exaggerated Mr. Maher’s performance deficiencies to justify firing him. Accordingly, it permitted him to proceed with his disability discrimination claims under both the ADA and the LAD.

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Is Obesity a Disabilty in NJ or NY.jpgLast month the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to designate obesity as a disease. More specifically, it adopted a resolution which states that obesity is a disease that leads to other conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. As a result of the AMA’s decision, it is likely that more employees who are fired, demoted, harassed, or otherwise treated worse at their jobs because they are overweight will be legally protected by both New Jersey and New York law.

Both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL) prohibit employers from discriminating against employees on the basis that they are disabled. The two laws define the term “disability” broadly to include both physical and mental disabilities. Neither statute limits its definition to severe or permanent medical conditions. In particular, the LAD defines disability to include any “physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement which is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness including epilepsy and other seizure disorders.” Similarly, the NYHRL’s definition to mean a physical or medical impairment “resulting from anatomical, physiological or neurological conditions which prevents the exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques.”

Over a decade ago, in Viscik v. Fowler Equipment Co., the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that an employee’s obesity can be a disability under the LAD, but only if it is “morbid.” Obesity is considered “morbid” if it prevents you from engaging in normal activities. In Viscik, the Court found the employee who filed the lawsuit was disabled because her obesity caused her other medical conditions including arthritis, a heart condition, obstructive lung disease and knee problems that limited her ability to walk. The court concluded this met the LAD’s definition of a disability.

Likewise, in Delta Air Lines v. New York State Division of Human Rights, a 1997 case, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that simply being overweight is not a disability under the NYHRL. However, it distinguished another case in which the company’s doctor concluded the employee was unable to perform her job because she was “grossly obese,” a diagnosed medical condition that impaired her ability to work. Thus, like the New Jersey Supreme Court, in the past New York’s highest court required an individual’s obesity to cause an illness, impairment or limitation before it can be considered a disability under the NYHRL.

But at least arguably, today the analysis could be much simpler. Since the AMA has deemed obesity itself to be a disease, it seems to fit within the LAD’s definition of disability as long as being overweight can be considered a form of malformation or disfigurement. Likewise, it seems to fall within the NYHRL’s definition since it is a physical or medical condition resulting from an anatomical condition that can be demonstrated by medically accepted clinical techniques.

Of course, how much this change actually will impact disability discrimination law is an issue that eventually will be decided by the courts. The bottom line is that the AMA’s new resolution could help extend protection against disability discrimination to additional employees who previously were not legally protected.

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Last month, New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed a verdict of over one million dollars in a disability discrimination and retaliation case because the only evidence supporting the claim was inadmissible hearsay. Hearsay is basically when you try to prove something is true based on the fact that someone else said it was true outside of the courtroom. Hearsay generally is not admissible at a trial because it is considered untrustworthy. However, there are many exceptions to that rule.

Employee whispering secret to businessman.jpgThe case was brought by Anthony Pace, who was a security guard for the Elizabeth Board of Education for more than 15 years. In 2003, Mr. Pace suffered a knee injury at work, and filed a worker’s compensation claim. In 2006, the Board decided not to renew Mr. Pace’s contract as part of a reduction-in-force. Mr. Pace then sued, claiming the Board’s decision to lay him off was both disability discrimination and an act of retaliation because he filed a workers’ compensation claim. A jury agreed with Mr. Pace and awarded him $147,630 for past lost wages, $427,370 for future lost wages, and $250,000 in punitive damages. He also was awarded $237,843 in attorney’s fees and $7,708.84 to reimburse him for his litigation costs, bringing his total judgment to more than a million dollars.

The primary evidence to support Mr. Pace’s claims were two witnesses who testified that a former member of the Board, Carol Cascio, told them the Board was trying to eliminate employees who had brought worker’s compensation claims against it during the reduction-in-force. Both of the witnesses indicated that Ms. Cascio made those statements after she had left the Board.

However, in Pace v. Elizabeth Board of Education, the Appellate Division ruled that this evidence was inadmissible hearsay. In doing so, the court rejected numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule. For example, it found an exception for statements made by the opposing party did not apply since Mr. Pace did not sue Ms. Cascio personally so she could not be an opposing party. Similarly, it found an exception for statements by agents, employees and representatives of an opposing party did not apply because Ms. Cascio was no longer an employee of the Board when she allegedly made the statements. It also rejected an exception for statements that are against the speaker’s interests because Ms. Cascio did not say anything that personally implicated herself in any wrongdoing. Likewise, it rejected other exceptions to the hearsay rule because there was no evidence the Board had authorized Ms. Cascio’s statement, and no evidence it adopted her statement as its own. Ultimately, having found the only evidence of discrimination and retaliation was inadmissible hearsay, the Appellate Division overturned the jury’s verdict.

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bigstock-Answer-sheet-8013079.jpgThe Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is entitled to subpoena a broad range of information during its investigations into possible violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Third Circuit is a federal appellate court that handles cases that started in the District of New Jersey.

The appeal stems from an investigation the EEOC is conducting regarding Kroger grocery store’s alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits companies from using tests when hiring employees if they “screen out or tend to screen out” disabled job candidates, unless the tests are “‘job-related for the position in question” and “consistent with business necessity.” Kroger uses a Customer Service Assessment test that was written for it by another company, Kronos Incorporated, to screen its job applicants. Kroger decided not to hire a job applicant, Vicky Sandy, after she scored poorly on that test. Ms. Sandy is hearing and speech impaired.

During its investigation into Ms. Sandy’s disability discrimination claim, the EEOC sent a subpoena to Kronos seeking information about how the test impacts disabled job applicants. Kronos refused to respond to the subpoena. The EEOC then filed a motion to enforce the subpoena in federal district court. The district court eventually limited the information the EEOC was entitled to receive to information relating to the state in which Ms. Sandy applied and the job titles for which she applied during an 18 month period. In 2010, the Third Circuit reversed that decision, and removed those limitations. It then sent the case back to the district court to modify its order.

But the EEOC again disagreed with the order the district court issued, and appealed to the Third Circuit. This time, it objected to a limitation that it was only entitled to information from any research or studies about the test’s impact on disabled individuals that Kronos “relied upon in creating or implementing the test for Kroger.”

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Kronos, Inc., the Third Circuit again agreed with the EEOC. It explained that the EEOC is entitled to subpoena information during its investigations if it can show that (1) the investigation has a legitimate purpose; (2) the information requested is relevant to that purpose; (3) the EEOC does not already have the information it is requesting; (4) the EEOC has complied with its own administrative requirements; and (5) the information it requested is not unreasonably broad or burdensome. Applying that test, the court concluded that the EEOC was entitled to the information it was seeking whether or not Kronos specifically considered it with respect to the test it developed for Kroger. It therefore instructed the district court to remove that limitation from its order.

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