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The Importance of a Meaningful and Legitimate ‘Interactive Process’ in Your Request for a Disability Accommodation in New Jersey

When you are seeking an employment accommodation in New Jersey based on your disability, it is very important to have a knowledgeable New Jersey disability discrimination attorney on your side. There are several things that your employer must do during this process and, if it doesn’t (or if it doesn’t do so in good faith,) then that may be a very important cog in your Law Against Discrimination lawsuit. An experienced attorney can spot these issues for you and help you use them to your maximum benefit.

A recent case from Hunterdon County shows what an example of a lack of good faith by an employer might look like. V.L. was a woman with depression and anxiety. V.L. worked at a Hunterdon County health care organization from 1996 to 2015.

During her employment, V.L. had requested several accommodations for her depression and anxiety, which the employer had approved. At the end of an approved 12-week leave of absence, the employee met with her doctor, as well as a physician’s assistant who worked for the employer, about her return to work. According to the P.A., the employer had already identified a replacement to fill V.L.’s job.

V.L.’s doctor said she was ready for work. The P.A. concluded that V.L. was not ready to return to work but that her accommodation should be discussed with her supervisor. Instead, the employer fired V.L. two days later.

When you have a case like V.L.’s involving disability discrimination, your employer has several techniques it can try to use to defeat your claim. One common one is asserting that you were unable to do the essential functions of your job, with or without an accommodation.

How proof of your employer’s lack of good faith can help you

One way that you can fight back is to prove that the employer did not engage in the interactive process in a good-faith way. The interactive process is a procedure that the employer must initiate any time an employee with a disability requests an accommodation. This procedure involves the employer and employee working together to identify potential appropriate accommodations. If an employer doesn’t do this, or does it in a bad-faith way, then proof of that may help you win your case.

V.L. had that kind of evidence, according to the Appellate Division court. She had proof that, while she was still on leave, her supervisor emailed his supervisor to ask when V.L. would be formally terminated. There was also the testimony from the P.A. about the employer identifying V.L.’s replacement while V.L. was still employed and on leave.

Additionally, the employee had evidence that her supervisor agreed to consider certain accommodations she requested on her “return to work” form but, instead, fired V.L. the next day. On top of that, V.L. had testimony from the P.A. that, out of the roughly 100 workers the P.A. had assessed, V.L. was the only one where she had denied an employee’s return to work. All of this was proof that pointed toward the conclusion that the employer had already made up their mind to fire V.L. and only engaged in the interactive process as a formality with no intention of reaching an accommodation.

That was enough to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the employer had engaged in the interactive process in bad faith and had discriminated against the employee based on her disability.

If you have a disability and you believe your employer fired you without ever making a serious attempt to reach a reasonable accommodation, then your employer may have engaged in impermissible discrimination. Talk to the experienced New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates for the legal advice and advocacy you need. Our attorneys have many years of experience successfully representing New Jersey workers in disability discrimination and other discrimination cases. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how our experienced attorneys can help you.

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