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.
Brian 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.”