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Winning Your Disability Discrimination Case in New Jersey, Even if Your Employer Began Contemplating Firing You Before Learning of Your Disability

When it comes to winning a disability discrimination case, timing can often be an extremely important piece of the puzzle. For example, if you have proof that your employer took an adverse action against you very shortly after you requested a reasonable accommodation for your disability, that bit of “timing” evidence can be a major positive for your case. On the other hand, if your employer has proof that it contemplated firing you before it ever became aware of your disability, that evidence potentially can weaken your case. Note that it just weakens your case… it doesn’t necessarily destroy your case. Timing is just one piece of the puzzle among many and, like any other negative fact, it can be overcome. Your skilled New Jersey disability discrimination attorney can help you map out a possible pathway to success, even when some of the pieces of your case (like timing) seem to work against you.

As an example of what we mean, there’s the case of F.C., who worked for a healthcare company. In 2015, the employer began considering replacing F.C. A few months later, the employee developed health problems that eventually required heart surgery to address.

Three weeks after F.C. returned from his post-surgery leave, the employer fired him. The employee sued in federal court, alleging that the termination violated the ADA and the FMLA. The employer had some proof on its side. For one thing, the evidence showed that the employer first began considering firing F.C. before it even knew F.C. had a disability or would need a medical leave of absence from work. That seemed to point toward the firing as being legitimate and non-discriminatory.

Overcoming ‘bad’ facts

This is one of those situations where having the right legal team to do the right pre-trial work is a particularly huge benefit. Sometimes, success lies in weakening or destroying the other side’s evidence. Other times, it isn’t an option. However, what F.C. could do — and did do — was engage in extensive pre-trial discovery that gave him competing proof that countered those negative facts.

The employee’s discovery included interrogatories in which the employer stated that F.C.’s performance was a factor in his firing and that four executives were involved in the termination decision. However, two executives from the company testified performance was not a factor in the employee’s termination and R.W., F.C.’s direct supervisor, testified that he alone made the decision to fire F.C. On top of those things, the employer’s legal brief asserted that the firing decision was made before the employee began using medical leave, but two executives testified that the choice to fire F.C. was made after he returned from medical leave.

What that meant, all together, was that F.C., through pre-trial discovery and trial testimony, had established a lack of consistency from the employer about why he was fired, who decided to fire him and when that decision was made.

These inconsistencies were very important because, in the view of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings directly impact federal cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware,) they offered important evidence validly calling the employer’s credibility into question. In fact, the inconsistencies the employee’s legal team unearthed were sufficient to allow a jury to decide the employer’s stated non-discriminatory reasons for firing him were untrue and pretextual, and that the real reason for the termination was impermissible discrimination and retaliation.

Each disability discrimination case has its own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, for example, timing evidence is a great aid to your side, sometimes it may work against you. Whichever way that or any other individual item of proof goes, never let a single negative fact or piece of evidence intimidate you into giving up on your discrimination case. Always talk to counsel first. The skilled New Jersey disability discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. Our attorneys have many years of helping harmed workers build successful cases and get the compensation they deserve. 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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