The New Jersey Supreme Court of Appeals recently reversed a lower court’s ruling against a school employee and remanded her case back to the lower court so she can pursue her disability discrimination claim against her employer.
This case, Richter v. Oakland Board of Education, is notable because it reaffirms the idea that an employer’s failure to at least entertain reasonable accommodation requests can violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) — even when no adverse action is taken against the disabled employee.
What led to this decision?
The plaintiff in this case, a teacher, suffers from Type I diabetes. She asked, repeatedly and in writing, to move her lunch time so that she could better manage her condition and was ignored. She subsequently fainted while teaching due to hypoglycemia and suffered serious, permanent injuries.
Although she obtained workers’ compensation, she also sued under the LAD. Her case was initially dismissed based on the idea that the school hadn’t taken any adverse action against her that would constitute discrimination. In addition, the school sought to bar her case on the basis that workers’ compensation was her only remedy for the workplace injuries.
The appellate court disagreed on both counts
Where the workers’ comp claim was concerned, an exception in the law allows an injured employee to sue when they suffered an “intentional wrong.” The court felt that a jury could see the school board could be considered consciously aware that the teacher could experience hypoglycemia as a result of her meal schedule.
The court also stated that the circumstances of the case “cry out for a remedy” under the LAD, and that adverse employment action isn’t required to prove her claim. In essence, the school’s failure to engage in the process of determining whether it could make reasonable accommodations for the teacher’s disability is enough to trigger an LAD violation.
Protecting your company’s future is a big job, and employment litigation can damage your reputation and your bottom line. Working with experienced advocates can help you avoid major problems in the future.