Federal and state laws in New Jersey protect the rights of people with disabilities to have fair access to employment and to accommodations in the workplace that allow them to do their jobs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers who are dealing with a wide range of disabilities. Since the ADA is a federal statute with nationwide reach, lawsuits and court rulings in other states can potentially affect New Jersey disability discrimination laws. Two recent ADA lawsuits illustrate how the statute can help New Jersey workers. One case involves an alleged refusal to hire an applicant because of their participation in an addiction recovery program. Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n v. Volvo Group N. Am., LLC, No. 1:17-cv-02889, consent dec. (D. Md., Jan. 12, 2018). The other involves an alleged failure to engage in ADA-required processes regarding a request for an accommodation. McClain v. Tenax Corp., No. 1:17-cv-00049, order (S.D. Ala., Jan. 12, 2018).
The ADA’s definition of “disability” includes both “physical [and] mental impairment[s]” that are severe enough to “substantially limit one or more major life activities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A). It includes both “actual or perceived” impairments, meaning that a person who does not have a disability may still fall within the ADA’s protection if others think that they do. Id. at § 12102(3). The statute prohibits discrimination because of disability. This includes failing to make reasonable accommodations for an employee and refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid making such accommodations. An employer does not have to make a requested accommodation if it can show that doing so would “impose an undue hardship” on its business. Id. at § 12112(b)(5)(A).
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the Volvo lawsuit on behalf of a job applicant claiming disability discrimination. The defendant allegedly rescinded a conditional offer of employment in early 2015, after learning that the applicant was undergoing addiction treatment. While the use of illegal drugs is not considered a disability under the ADA, “participating in a supervised rehabilitation program” while refraining from illegal drug use is. Id. at § 12114. According to the EEOC’s complaint, the applicant ceased the use of illegal drugs and began participation in a supervised treatment program in 2010. The treatment included the use of suboxone, which the applicant reportedly disclosed to the defendant. This allegedly led to the revocation of the offer. The parties reached a settlement in January 2018.