Articles Posted in Disability Discrimination

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It is a general rule of the law that, if you have a disability (or a perceived disability) and your employer imposes an adverse employment action against you (such as termination, demotion, reduction in pay, reduction in hours, reassignment of duties, etc.) because of that disability, then you can pursue a disability discrimination action.

However, what if your employer never inflicted any of those things against you? Does the absence of that fact mean that you are “out of luck” when it comes to seeking much-needed compensation for disability discrimination? According to a recent Appellate Division ruling, the answer is “no.” This important employee victory in court is a reminder that, if you think you’ve been harmed on the job due to your disability, you should always take the time to contact an experienced New Jersey employment attorney and discuss the options that may exist for you.

In that recent case, M.R. was a middle school teacher in a school district in Bergen County who had Type I diabetes. During the 2012-13 school year, her schedule called for her to take lunch starting at 1:05 pm. The teacher believed that, due to the drugs she took for her diabetes, eating lunch that late could negatively affect her blood sugar levels.

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Whether it is modern restaurant establishments like “Hooters” (and other similar chains) that rose to fame in the 1990s, or more vintage businesses like the Playboy Clubs of the 1960s, some businesses have offered visitors female employees dressed in tight and/or revealing uniforms for many decades.

Whether they are/were employing “Hooters Girls” or Playboy “Bunnies”, these kinds of employers are obviously seeking to create a certain atmosphere at their businesses. However, is there a point at which the rules imposed by this type of employer may constitute a form of illegal harassment or discrimination under New Jersey law? A recent ruling from the Appellate Division court indicates that the answer may be “yes.”

The recent case involved 21 women who worked as “Babes” at an Atlantic City casino and spa. At the casino, Babes, who worked as beverage servers, could be male or female. The program required all Babes to adhere to strict appearance standards. Male Babes were expected to have broad shoulders and a slim waist. Female Babes were required to maintain a “natural hourglass shape.”

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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.

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A well-worn phrase opines that it is “not what you say but how you say it.” Believe it or not, your disability discrimination case may be somewhat like that. Sometimes, the key to success is not proving that you were harmed based upon a condition you had, but instead lies with connecting that condition (when it is not itself a recognized disability) with something else that is a recognized disability.

For example, obesity by itself isn’t a recognized disability in New Jersey. However, if you prove that your obesity is actually a symptom of some other physical health or mental health disability, then your disability discrimination case may go from hopeless to a potential success. In other words, there are often more options out there for you than you might have thought. Explore those options by contacting a knowledgeable New Jersey discrimination attorney about your situation right away.

The case of one New Jersey bus driver was an unfortunate example of the importance of this connection. C.D. had worked for the same employer as a bus driver from 2005 to 2015. During that time, he passed all his required physical exams and won several awards for his work. During that decade, the driver weighed between 500 and 600 pounds. In 2015, the employer’s physician did not give C.D. a “pass” on his physical exam. He remained out of work for 10 months before he filed a complaint against the employer.

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One of the more quickly evolving issues of law and society is marijuana. Marijuana, just a few decades ago, was something seen as only a harmful recreational drug and people associated its users with the stereotype of the lazy “stoner.” Today, it has begun being embraced for multiple therapeutic uses. In New Jersey, marijuana is legal if you’re using it for a medical purpose. So, what should you do if your employer punishes, or fires, you for using medical marijuana that your doctor prescribed for you?

The use of medical marijuana is not explicitly protected by the Law Against Discrimination. Does that mean that, if your employer took an adverse action against you that you can’t possibly have a case for employment discrimination? As one recent case ruling from the Appellate Division highlights, the answer to that is, “No, it doesn’t.” In other words, don’t give up; instead, consult a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney to find out how you may be able to recover compensation.

That recent case involved J.W., a funeral director at a North Jersey funeral home. J.W. used marijuana as part of his cancer treatment and held a license to use under New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Act.

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When you’ve been harmed by workplace discrimination, it is important to act promptly. You only have a limited period of time to decide to pursue a Law Against Discrimination case and to get that complaint filed with the court. The law limits you to two years in which to file. File too late and your employer may be able to use that tardiness to get your case dismissed, which would mean that you would be forever barred from obtaining any recovery for those acts of discrimination.

Part of that prompt action is, with all due speed, consulting with, and retaining, experienced New Jersey discrimination counsel. As a layperson, you are doubtlessly very familiar with all of the rules and requirements of your profession, but it is reasonable to assume that you may not be as versed in the demands of the law. Going it alone can risk making procedural errors like filing too late, or not knowing how best to respond if your employer argues, incorrectly, that your filing came after the deadline.

As an example of a case that came down arguments about when the filing deadline passed, there’s the recently decided lawsuit filed a South Jersey woman. S. T.-B. was the executive director of a community college’s cultural and heritage commission. S. T.-B. was also a 67-year-old African-American woman with disabilities. On January 23, 2015, a vice president at the college notified the director that due to drop in enrollment and in funding, the school was making cost cutbacks, including eliminating the director’s job. The director would, however, continue to receive her regular salary until June 30, 2015.

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Recently, the issue of “emotional support animals” has been in the news a lot. In August, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported on Southwest Airlines’ decision to limit such animals on its flights, allowing only cats and dogs. This came after another airline made news by refusing to allow a woman to board a flight in Newark with her large emotional support peacock earlier this year. While the famous emotional support peacock launched many social media memes, the assistance many animals provide people with disabilities is absolutely no laughing matter, and neither is discrimination against workers with disabilities who require the aid of service animals. So, you may wonder, what are your workplace rights in New Jersey when it comes to your animal that provides you aid? For in-depth answers to these and other questions that are specific to your situation, be sure to reach out a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney for the assistance you need.

While the issue of discrimination against people who have animals that render aid may come up most frequently with regard to housing or public accommodations, it can also arise in your job. To better understand your rights, it is important to make a key distinction, which is between service animals and support animals. A service animal is, according to federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a dog or miniature horse that is individually trained to “do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” The range of work and/or tasks a service animal might do include guiding a blind person, being a “hearing” dog for a deaf person, pulling a wheelchair, calming someone with PTSD, protecting someone having a seizure or reminding a person with a mental disorder to take his/her prescriptions. If you have a recognized disability and an animal can perform a task that lessens the symptoms or problems related to your disability, then that dog or miniature horse can qualify as a service animal.

Support animals, on the other hand, are different. The animals’ human companion does not have to have a recognized disability and the animal need not have gone through any specific training to perform any specific task or work.

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In the last few months, multiple stories have emerged from New York City in which employees have asserted that they have been the victims of disability discrimination based upon their condition of sleep apnea. These cases are a reminder that disabilities can come in a wide range of varieties. Just because your disability does not involve a wheelchair or some other visible sign of limitation does not mean that it is not enough to trigger the protection of anti-discrimination laws. For advice and advocacy regarding your disability and workplace discrimination, contact a skilled New Jersey discrimination attorney to represent you.

While recent news articles from the New York Post and New York Daily News have focused on New York employees, New Jersey authorities have also faced this issue. Sometimes, the form of discrimination that an employer commits is the failure of the employer to provide the affected employee with a reasonable accommodation. For example, the employee in the Daily News article, a security guard with sleep apnea, sued after his employer allegedly fired him for sleeping during his meal breaks.

Last year, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office issued a ruling in which it found the existence of probable cause for a hearing on alleged disability discrimination. That case involved the employer’s refusal to let the worker return to the job, as opposed to providing some accommodation like nap breaks. R.B. was diagnosed with sleep apnea and placed on leave from his job as a yard switcher for a trucking company in Port Newark.

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As a worker, there may be various circumstances under which you might need to take an extended leave of absence. These disabling conditions could range from physical issues (like a high-risk pregnancy, major surgery, or cancer treatment) to psychological ones (like inpatient treatment for bipolar disorder or OCD). When these things happen, your condition might dictate that you need several months away from work. Sometimes, though, an employer might seek to deny a worker any leave beyond the minimum that the laws (the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the New Jersey Family Leave Act) require. When your employer does that, do you have any recourse through the legal system? The answer is that you might. Be sure to reach out to a knowledgeable New Jersey disability discrimination attorney without delay to learn more about your case.

Workers who experience conditions that render them temporarily but totally disabled are entitled to the same protections under the law as any other employees with disabilities. This means that these workers are entitled to receive accommodations for their disabilities as long as the requested accommodations are reasonable and will not place undue hardships on the workers’ employers.

All workers employed by employers of 50 people or more are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA and the NJFLA. Taking leave that spans more than 12 weeks can potentially be trickier. If you and your doctor have concluded that you will need to be away from work for more than 12 weeks, it is important to provide notice and get that request for extended leave before your employer as soon as you have the written documentation from your doctor that you need to make the request.

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If you have a disability, you obviously face certain unique challenges in your life. Being allowed a fair chance to do a job for which you are qualified should not be one of them. The law says that employers may not discriminate against workers with disabilities, and part of that requirement means the employer must, in most situations, provide an employee with the reasonable accommodations she needs in order to do her job, as long as those accommodations do not place an undue burden on the employer’s business (and most do not). If you’ve been harmed at work because your employer rejected the reasonable accommodation that you requested, you may have a case and may have a right to compensation for disability discrimination. Talk to an experienced New Jersey disability discrimination attorney to learn more about what your next steps should be.

Both federal law and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination are very clear about certain things. One of these is that, if you have a disability, the employer is required to give you a reasonable accommodation of your disability, unless it can prove to a court that the accommodation is unduly burdensome. In other words, it is mandatory, and the employer generally cannot deny you an accommodation unless it meets the high hurdle of proving an undue burden. The employer is not obligated to give you exactly the accommodation that you sought; instead, your employer must engage in a good-faith “interactive process” to arrive at an appropriate accommodation. (If the employer fails to engage in the interactive process, or fails to do so in good faith, that in itself can be a basis for a disability discrimination case.)

Many accommodations sought by employers are genuinely modest and reasonable, and clearly fall short of constituting an undue burden on an employer. An employee with inflammatory bowel disease might ask her employer for an accommodation in the form of extra bathroom breaks or a work station close to the bathroom. An employee who requires the use of a wheelchair might ask for an adjusted desk in his work space to better reach the desktop. An employee with depression might need an extended period of leave to seek treatment.

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