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When a Supervisor’s ‘Badgering’ and ‘Demeaning Comments’ About a New Jersey Employee’s Disability Can Create a Hostile Work Environment

While many people may associate the phrase “hostile work environment” with sexual harassment cases, that phrase has a broader meaning in New Jersey. In New Jersey, you can be entitled to a judgment and damages based upon a hostile work environment created for many reasons, including a hostile work environment created due to a disability. In order to succeed in such an action, there are several things you, as an aggrieved employee, must show to the court. An experienced New Jersey disability discrimination attorney can help in this and other employment law concerns.

An example of this type of case was a recent federal court action that involved Francis, a “Manager of Strategic Global Accounts.” The manager’s job involved selling commercial office furniture and servicing the accounts of several large multinational companies. The job routinely called for him to travel to customers’ places of business because the employer expected its account managers to “get out into the marketplace and make face-to-face sales calls.”

Francis had experienced back problems for years, and, in the summer of 2012, he underwent spinal fusion surgery. This caused him to take a medical leave of absence from work and go on short-term disability. After four and one-half months, even though Francis wore a back brace, he was without restrictions at work.

Problems began at work for Francis shortly after he returned from his absence. The manager’s supervisor made numerous derogatory comments about Francis’ condition and his back brace. Additionally, Francis received a negative performance review in February 2013. Even though Francis missed considerable time due to the back surgery, his manager allegedly critiqued him for failing to meet his sales goals. Later in the year, the supervisor began imposing additional special requirements on Francis related to documenting his time management. Even though the employee’s doctor later concluded that the man needed to refrain from sitting in a “perched position” typing reports, the supervisor allegedly continued the reporting requirement.

The company eventually terminated Francis. Francis launched a hostile work environment action under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. To have a valid claim for a disability-related hostile work environment under New Jersey law, you need proof of three things:  that you were disabled, that you were “subjected to conduct that would not have occurred” if you weren’t disabled, and that the conduct was so bad or constant that it altered the conditions of your employment.

When you bring a hostile work environment claim, the court will look at the “totality of the circumstances.” That means the frequency of the abuse, the severity of it, whether or not it is physically threatening, and whether or not it “unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.” Acts of harassment committed by supervisors may carry extra weight because supervisors have a “unique role” in their employees’ work environment.

Francis had evidence that his supervisor knew about his disability as early as October 2012. He also had proof (in the form of badgering, false work performance criticisms, improper workplace “write ups,” and demeaning comments that, he argued, happened only because of his back disability). If a jury believed all of this evidence, it was enough to go beyond just being rude, offensive, or insensitive and would qualify as severe or pervasive, according to the court.

The skilled New Jersey disability discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates have been helping workers for many years in their discrimination litigation matters. If you believe you’ve suffered harm due to illegal treatment by your employer, contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation. Talk to one of our attorneys to find out how we can help you.

More blog posts:

New Jersey Auto Dealership Employee Wins Important Battle in Disability Discrimination Case Against the Employer Who Fired Him, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Nov. 8, 2017

Without Proof that a Nurse Was a Danger to Herself or Others, New Jersey Hospital Couldn’t Fire Her Due to a Perceived Disability, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, July 27, 2017

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