Articles Posted in Disability Discrimination

Earlier this month, in Pritchett v. State, the New Jersey Supreme Court confirmed that the state of New Jersey and municipalities remain subject to punitive damages under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

Shelley Pritchett worked for the State of New Jersey as a Senior Corrections Officer at the Juvenile Justice Center (“JJC”).  In 2011, Officer Pritchett suffered back, knee and neck injuries when she broke up a fight between two inmates.  She went on a workers’ compensation leave as a result.  Her doctor subsequently diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis. As a result, she sought to extend her medical leave by approximately 4 ½ months.  However, the JJC denied her request, and instead offered to extend her leave by only about a month and told her that if she was not medically cleared to return to work by then she would have to resign.

Female Correction Officer Disability Discrimination AppealOfficer Pritchett was unable to return to work within the additional time JJC had granted.  However, she told the JJC she did not want to resign.  In response, JJC told her that if she did not resign by the end of the week, it would initiate disciplinary proceedings to fire her, and she would lose her pension.  In response, Officer Pritchett applied for a disability retirement.

Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an employee does not need to suffer an adverse employment action to win a claim based on the employer’s failure to accommodate her disability under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

Teacher denied reasonable accommoation for her disability.Mary Richter is a teacher for the Oakland Board of Education.  Ms. Richter has Type 1 diabetes.  She repeatedly asked the school principal to allow her to change her schedule so she could eat lunch earlier to help her manage her blood sugar levels.  However, the school did not accommodate her an accommodation for her diabetes.

Ms. Richter subsequently experienced a hypoglycemic event in a classroom.  As a result, she fainted, hit her head on a table, and sustained very serious permanent injuries, including:

Today, in Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot discriminate against employees for using prescribed medical marijuana while off-duty.  Rather, doing so constitutes disability discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

The New Jersey Supreme Court affirms a March 17, 2019 Appellate Division opinion.  The Supreme Court’s opinion makes it clear that the Compassionate Use Act does not require employers to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace.  It also noted that the Compassionate Use Act does not permit anyone to operate or control any “vehicle, aircraft, railroad train, stationary heavy equipment or vessel while under the influence of marijuana.”  But the Supreme Court’s opinion holds that the LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for using prescribed medical marijuana outside of work.

For more information about the case, please see my previous article:  New Jersey Employers Can’t Discriminate for Medical Marijuana Use Outside of Work.

A recent decision by New Jersey’s Appellate Division demonstrates that under the right circumstances an employee can prove disability discrimination from the fact that her employer fired her shortly after she had surgery.

Employee prvails in age and disability discrimination appealAda Caballero worked for Cablevision Systems Corporation for 15 years.  In 2013, she was divorced.  A few months after her divorce was finalized, Ms. Caballero submitted a copy of the divorce judgment to the company’s human resources department.  However, Cablevision did not remove her ex-husband from its health insurance plan.

On Ms. Caballero’s 2014 performance evaluation, Cablevision gave her a rating of “strong performance.”

A recent decision by New Jersey’s Appellate Division recognizes that an employer can violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) if it discriminates against a disabled employee because he uses medically prescribed marijuana to treat a disability outside of the workplace.

Law Prohibits Discrimination for Medical Marijuana Use Outside of WorkJustin Wild worked as a licensed funeral director for Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc. (“Carriage”).  Mr. Wild has cancer.  Pursuant to New Jersey’s Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act, Mr. Wild has been prescribed marijuana to help with the associated pain.  The Compassionate Use Act decriminalizes the use of marijuana for certain medical reasons including pain relief for individuals with cancer.

In 2016, while working for Carriage, Mr. Wild was in a car accident and had to be taken to the emergency room.  He was prescribed pain medication and released from the hospital the same day.  At home, Mr. Wild took the pain medication and used medical marijuana.

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Supreme Court clarified how to determine whether an employer fired an employee because of a disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

Nurse wins appeal in disability discrimination caseMaryanne Grande, RN, worked for Saint Clare’s Health System for approximately 10 years.  During that time she suffered four separate work-related injuries that required her to take significant time off and led to additional periods during which she only could work light duty.

In February 2010, while moving an obese patient from a stretcher to a bed, Ms. Grande had to grab the patient to prevent him from falling.  She injured her cervical spine and needed surgery which required over four months of recovery and rehabilitation.  When she finally returned to work she had to work light duty for several weeks.

New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently ruled that federal labor law does not preempt an employee’s disability discrimination claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) or retaliation claim under the Workers’ Compensation Law (“WCL”).  Federal labor law preempts state law claims that require an interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between an employer and a union, meaning any such state law claims cannot proceed.

Truck driver alleges disability discriminationBrian Hejda, a union member, worked as a commercial truck driver for Bell Container Corporation.  In August 2012, he suffered a knee injury at work.  Mr. Hejda’s doctor placed him on restrictions and required him to work “light duty.”  Bell did not return him to work because it did not have a light duty position for him.  An orthopedist subsequently cleared Mr. Hejda to return to work in late September, but indicated he needed the same restrictions and could not drive a commercial truck.

In February 2013, another orthopedist cleared Mr. Hejda to return to work without any restrictions.  Several weeks later, Bell sent a letter to the union indicating that under a Department of Transportation (“DOT”) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation, Mr. Hejda could not return to driving a commercial truck until a Certified Medical Examiner medically examined and certified him “physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.”

Earlier this month, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey permitted an employee to continue with his claim that his employer harassed him because he is disabled, but dismissed his other disability discrimination claims.

Francis Gavin worked for Haworth, Inc. in various sales roles.  Mr. Gavin has a back disability which required him to undergo several surgeries and time off from work.  Most recently, he took off two weeks after lumbar spinal fusion surgery in August 2012.  He returned to work gradually, with medical restrictions for approximately 4 ½ months.

Employee with back disability can pursue harassment claim.After he returned to work, Mr. Gavin’s supervisor, Henry Pizoli, frequently made disparaging comments about his back condition.  For example, he commented about the fact that Mr. Gavin had to wear a duragesic patch and a back brace, saying it “doesn’t look good in front of customers” and asked him in front of a customer if he would be “able to work normally without this [back condition] being the center of attention.”  Mr. Pizoli also told Mr. Gavin he “should have never come back to work” after his surgery, and repeatedly suggested he should “leave.”

Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s decision that had dismissed Robert Benning’s disability discrimination lawsuit because the trial court improperly ignored evidence which supported his claim.

Custodian claims disability discrminationMr. Benning is disabled.  Specifically, he has cognitive impairment from an episode of cardiac arrest in 1984, which causes him difficulty with his short-term memory and processing new information.

In September 2006, Mr. Benning began working for the Middlesex Regional Education Services Commission (“Middlesex”).  Although he initially served as a teacher’s aide, he quickly began to work as custodian.  Between 2006 through 2009, he consistently received positive performance ratings.

Disabled employee firedA New Jersey court recently ruled that a jury must determine whether an employer committed disability discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) by firing an employee for making a mistake on a day on which he had asked to be on a medical leave.

Matthew Cook worked for Gregory Press, Inc. as a printing machine operator.  In 2011, he began to experience neck pain, numbness and tingling in face, and tingling in his hands.  He saw a doctor who recommended an MRI.

In the meantime, Mr. Cook’s home was flooded and severely damaged by Hurricane Irene.  He took almost a week off from work to repair his home.

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