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NFL Linebacker Sues Former Team in New Jersey for Allegedly Engaging in Illegal Discrimination Based Upon His Bipolar Disorder

Disability discrimination can take place in almost any employment setting. Both federal and New Jersey laws require an employer to accommodate, within reason, an employee with a disability unless providing that reasonable accommodation would create an undue hardship for the employer. Regardless of the nature of your work, if you believe you’ve suffered from disability discrimination, you need an experienced New Jersey disability discrimination attorney. Disability discrimination can occur in an office, in construction work, or even in professional sports. One alleged instance of the last category involves a federal lawsuit filed against one of this area’s pro sports teams, according to NBC Sports.

The plaintiff was a relatively successful linebacker for the New York Jets in 2015. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 14th-best inside linebacker. Analysts projected him as a starter for the Jets’ team in 2016. Then, in late October 2016, the Jets surprisingly put him on the “Non-Football Injury” (NFI) list, which meant that he could not play for at least the next eight games (which equals half an entire year), even though his team said that he was not injured at all. The team declined to renew the linebacker’s contract in the offseason.

That move by the team has now landed the two sides in court here in New Jersey. The player alleges that he has bipolar disorder and that the team’s manner of handling his condition, including putting him on the NFI list, constituted disability discrimination in violation of New Jersey and federal laws. He asserted in his lawsuit that his damages included the remainder of his 2016 salary, all of the salary he would have earned in 2017, and a roster bonus payment, totaling $3.3 million, according to the New York Daily News.

Both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination categorize mental illnesses (including bipolar disorder) as disabilities under discrimination law. The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General defines a disability as “any mental, psychological or developmental disability that results from conditions that prevent the normal exercise of any bodily or mental function or which can be shown to exist through accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic tests.”

According to the former Jets player, the drug that a team physician gave him for his bipolar condition had side effects, like significant drowsiness. The player’s agent told NBC Sports that the drowsiness brought on by the drug caused the player to be late to team meetings and to be accused of being hung over or drunk during those meetings.

There are many different types of accommodations employees might seek as a result of a mental illness-related disability. An employer has a legal obligation to make an accommodation for a disabled employee unless the accommodation would place an excessive impediment on the employer. For example, if an NFL player asked his employer to accommodate a prescription drug regimen that induced sleepiness by excusing him from all team meetings (which this player did not do in this case), that might be an example of an undue burden, since team meetings are generally considered to be an integral part of the conduct of most NFL team’s business. Modest accommodations to facilitate participation by an employee taking a strong anti-mental-illness medication (like, perhaps, moving certain meetings to different times) could possibly represent an example of an accommodation that is reasonable and not an undue burden.

The knowledgeable New Jersey disability discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates have been working to protect the rights of workers throughout New Jersey for many years. If you believe you’ve suffered from discrimination because of your disability, contact our team online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation. Talk to one of our skilled attorneys to find out how we can help you pursue your case.

More blog posts:

Making Sure You Get the Full Benefit of Your New Jersey Discrimination Damages Award, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, May 12, 2017

NJ Supreme Court: Employers Cannot Force Employees to Accept Shortened Period for Pursuing Discrimination Claims, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, March 8, 2017

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