In a lot of law blogs and other items that come from lawyers and law firms, you’ll probably hear the admonition, “Any time you are signing any legal document, be sure that you understand everything on that document before you put a pen on the paper,” or words to that effect. This warning comes up a lot because it is very good, and very important, advice. Almost any document has certain provisions and clauses that potentially could impact your rights or legal options later. Being sure you know before you sign is one way to avoid getting subsequently caught in a trap. If you are at all unsure about a document your employer is asking you to sign, reach out to a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney.
What do we mean by “trapped” later? Here’s a case from Passaic County that’s an example. G.M. worked for the county. G.M. had very severe arthritis. She took strong medications that worked as immunity suppressants, which meant that the employee was at an increased risk of suffering infections due to the drugs’ suppression of her immune system’s natural responses in fighting those infections.
At one point during her employment, G.M. found it necessary to ask for a period of medical leave. She made the request and the employer granted it. As part of that process, though, the employer asked the worker to sign certain documents. One of the documents included a provision that stated that the employee was “unable to perform all essential functions required by [her] employer.” By signing the document, G.M. was acknowledging that this was true. She signed the paper.
What you need for a winning disability discrimination case
Later, G.M. found it necessary to bring a disability discrimination lawsuit against her employer under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. To win a disability discrimination case, you need proof of several things. These things include evidence that: (1) you had a disability, (2) that you were “able to perform all of the essential functions” of your position, (3) that your employer knew or reasonably should have known about your need for a reasonable accommodation, and (4) with the accommodation, you could do your job.
In its case against G.M., the county produced, as evidence to support its arguments, the medical leave form that the employee had signed. It said that G.M. was not able to do the vital functions of her job. By signing it, G.M. had acknowledged that everything on that page, including that clause, was true. This, the defense claimed, was strong proof that, whether with or without an accommodation, this employee couldn’t do the essential functions of her job, and so she didn’t meet all the elements required by the law of disability discrimination, and her case must fail.
The jury sided with the defense and the Appellate Division ruled for the employer on appeal. That medical leave document that G.M. signed was a key piece of evidence leading both the trial judge and the appeals court to decide that there was enough proof to support the jury’s finding for the employer.
Certainly, it is unknown exactly what would have happened had the employer not produced that document. What can undeniably be said, though, is that the employer’s defense would have been weaker without that evidence and G.M. would have had a better chance of winning her case and recovering compensation if the employer did not have that evidence as part of its defense.
Always beware before you sign. And, if you think you’ve suffered illegal discrimination at work, reach out to the skilled New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how we can help.