Last week, I discussed the case of Thomas Bowers, an IT Professional who won his appeal of his race discrimination case against the New Jersey Judiciary. That case, Bowers v. New Jersey Judiciary, Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth Vicinage, also discusses Mr. Bowers’ retaliation claim.
Mr. Bowers filed an internal Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) complaint with his employer, the New Jersey Judiciary. He claimed his new supervisor, Troy Fitzpactrick, was harassing him because of his race. For example, he indicated that Mr. Fitzpatrick gave him assignments with unrealistic deadlines.
According to Mr. Bowers, the day after Mr. Bowers was interviewed about his EEO complaint, Mr. Fitzpatrick called him into his office and asked him about his complaint and work assignments. That meeting eventually became heated, and Mr. Fitzpatrick made threatening statements. Three days later, Mr. Bowers filed a second EEO complaint about Mr. Fitzpatrick’s behavior during that meeting.
Mr. Bowers then went on a medical leave due to anxiety and stress caused by the harassment and discrimination he had been experiencing at work. During the first month of Mr. Bowers’ medical leave, several Judiciary employees and a sheriff’s officer came to Mr. Bowers’ home to take back his laptop, supposedly because they were investigating a security breach. However, there is evidence that the Judiciary had little or no reason to suspect that Mr. Bowers was involved in that security breach.
Approximately three months later, the Judiciary terminated Mr. Bowers’ employment, claiming he “abandoned” his job. However, at that point Mr. Bowers still had not been cleared to return from his medical leave.
The trial court dismissed Mr. Bowers’ retaliation claim, concluding that the lower-level job duties he was assigned were part of his job description, his argument with Fitzpatrick and the confiscation of his laptop were not legally actionable, and his termination was not retaliatory. But New Jersey’s Appellate Division found these conclusions were reasonable, but that it was possible that a jury would instead find that some or all of the Judiciary’s actions toward Mr. Bowers were retaliatory. It therefore sent Mr. Bowers’ case back to the trial court, to give him an opportunity to try to prove his retaliation claim.
The Appellate Division’s decision also addressed Mr. Bowers’ claim that the Judiciary failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability, Anxiety Disorder. I will discuss that aspect of his case in my next article.
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