Sometimes, when you’ve been a victim of workplace discrimination, your civil damages may not be the only monetary award to which the law entitles you. Depending on the facts of your case, you may also have obtained an award of unemployment benefits, disability benefits, or another award. In an important ruling by the Appellate Division from earlier this year, the court clarified that a workplace discrimination victim’s civil damages award should not have been reduced based solely upon his receipt of unemployment benefits.
The worker was a flight instructor working for a large flight training school. After years of success on the job, the instructor developed knee problems. The instructor sought an accommodation of his knee-related disability, which included limitations on time spent standing, as well as extra time off. The school responded by making assertions of inadequate performance and non-compliance with employer rules, and it terminated the instructor.
After the school terminated the instructor, he was unemployed for a time. During that time, he received unemployment benefits. He also sued the school, alleging that it engaged in disability discrimination in violation of the Law Against Discrimination and improperly retaliated against him for seeking an accommodation.
At the end of a two-week trial, the jury returned a verdict for the instructor. Since the instructor eventually found a new job with higher pay, the instructor’s damages were not as great as they might otherwise have been. The jury awarded the instructor $83,000 in back pay damages. The court reduced that amount to $69,000. The $14,000 deduction was the equivalent of one-half of the unemployment benefits the instructor had received while he was jobless.
The instructor appealed, and the Appellate Division threw out the $14,000 reduction. New Jersey has a “collateral source statute” that imposes reductions on awards in certain circumstances, but, as the appeals court pointed out, that statute doesn’t apply to awards in Law Against Discrimination cases. In fact, Model Civil Jury Charge 2.33, which covers wrongful termination and discrimination cases, contains a subsection, 2.33(8), that says that a back pay award “should be reduced by any actual earnings,” but a plaintiff should not be docked for unemployment benefits or “other unearned income.”
The rule exists to prevent employers who engage in wrongdoing (such as impermissible discrimination) from receiving an unintended and undesirable “windfall” credit. In a situation in which illegal discrimination took place, the employer has violated the law, and the employer’s violation is the reason the employee is unemployed. Letting the employer escape paying a portion of the back pay damages for which it was responsible just because the employee filed for and received unemployment benefits would essentially allow the employer “an undeserved credit on his own wrongdoing from a source never so intended.”
When you’ve been harmed as a result of your employer’s impermissible discrimination, it is important to make sure not only that you “win” your case but also that you get the full amount that the law says you deserve. The New Jersey disability discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help you in doing just that. Our attorneys have many years of experience helping workers harmed by workplace discrimination. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys.
More blog posts:
New Jersey State Police Employee Receives $500K For Employer’s Failure to Accommodate His Disability, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2017
New Jersey Supreme Court Ruling Allows Treating Physicians to Give Opinion Testimony in Disability Discrimination Cases, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, March 29, 2017