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The New Jersey Appellate Division Revives the Disability Discrimination Case of a Woman Fired Three Weeks After Returning Following Surgery

Sometimes, the facts in your disability discrimination case may seem to be unfavorable, or may seem to you to present an insurmountable hill to climb to reach a successful outcome. Don’t let those “difficult” facts scare you. It may turn out that what seems to you to spell doom is actually nota “deal-breaker” for your case. A skilled New Jersey discrimination attorney may know how to take those facts, difficult ones and all, and still guide your case to get you your day in court.

Check out this case. A.C. was an employee working for a major cable television provider. In 2013, three months after her divorce, A.C. sent a copy of her final divorce judgment to her employer’s human resources department. She also sent HR paperwork about her application to change her name and get a new Social Security.

According to A.C., she thought that was all she needed to do, and that HR would handle everything else the employer needed to do from there, including taking her (now ex-)husband off her employer-provided insurance. Two years later, the employer fired A.C. after 15 years on the job. The firing took place three weeks after A.C. returned to work from gallbladder surgery.

A.C. sued. According to her lawsuit, the employer fired her due to age discrimination and disability discrimination. To succeed, there were several hurdles, but two major ones in particular.

First, there was the basis for the termination. The employer asserted that it legitimately fired A.C. because she attempted to defraud the employer when she kept her ex-husband on her insurance for two years after the couple’s divorce. (Apparently, the husband never actually got removed from A.C.’s insurance until an “audit” of the employer’s insurance benefits program in 2015.)

The court said that this was not a basis for throwing out A.C.’s case before trial. The key thing to determine is not whether or not the ex-husband actually remained on A.C.’s employer-provided insurance. The key question was: could a reasonable jury conclude that it was not unreasonable for A.C. to think that, when she sent the divorce paperwork, name change paperwork and Social Security paperwork to the employer, that that was all she needed to do to trigger getting her ex-husband off her insurance? The appeals court determined that a reasonable jury could think that, so that issue was not a valid basis for throwing out A.C.’s case before trial.

Your disability doesn’t have to be real as long as your employer thought it was

Second, there was the issue of whether or not A.C. had a qualifying disability. In this case, that was A.C.’s gallbladder surgery. A.C.’s gallbladder condition required no accommodation at work. Nevertheless, that lack of a need for an accommodation did not doom A.C.’s lawsuit.

The key focus wasn’t the degree of A.C.’s impairment or even if she was impaired at all. Even if your condition causes you zero impairment, you can still win a disability discrimination case if a reasonable jury could decide that your employer thought your condition impaired you and took adverse action against you based upon that belief.

If you believe you’ve been harmed at work based on a disability, whether you actually had a disability or your employer simply thought you did, reach out to the experienced New Jersey discrimination 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 you.

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