Jury Awards $11.8 Million to Former Employee in New Jersey Disability Discrimination Case

Disability SymbolsNew Jersey employees are protected against discrimination under federal and state laws, as well as municipal anti-discrimination ordinances in many cities around the state. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) covers a broad range of protected categories, including disability. In addition to prohibiting discrimination based on an employee’s disability, the law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. A jury recently found in favor of a former corrections officer in a New Jersey disability discrimination lawsuit, awarding her about $11.8 million in damages. Pritchett v. State of New Jersey, No. L-002189-13, complaint (N.J. Super. Ct., Mercer Cty., Oct. 10, 2013).

Under the NJLAD, an employer cannot discriminate against a worker “because such person is or has been at any time disabled.” N.J. Rev. Stat. §§ 10:5-4.1, 10:5-12. This applies to people with disabilities and people who are “perceived as having a disability.” Victor v. State, 4 A.3d 126, 142 (N.J. 2010). The NJLAD’s definition of a “disability” is also “significantly broader” than that of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Id. at 142 n. 11. Exceptions apply when a particular person’s particular disability “would prevent such person from performing a particular job.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-29.1; Raspa v. Office of Sheriff, 924 A.2d 435, 442-43 (N.J. 2007).

The NJLAD also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, provided this does not “impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.” N.J.A.C. 13:13-2.5(b). Reasonable accommodations might include modifications of facilities and equipment for accessibility, flexible or modified work schedules, or reassignment of certain job duties. Factors employers may consider when determining whether something constitutes an undue burden include the nature of their business, the size of their operation and facilities, and the potential cost of the accommodations.

The plaintiff in Pritchard worked as a Senior Corrections Officer for the State of New Jersey from March 2006 to December 2011. She suffered an on-the-job injury in June 2011 and went on workers’ compensation leave. A series of medical procedures related to her injury revealed “thoracic lesions associated with Multiple Sclerosis.” Pritchett, complaint at 2. In October 2011, the defendant informed the plaintiff that she had exhausted her leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and that she would be expected back at work on November 2.

The plaintiff informed the defendant that, under orders from her doctor for treatment related to MS, she could not return to work on the requested date. The defendant refused to extend her leave past November 1. She claimed in her complaint that one official stated that she could “put in for retirement” or “face disciplinary charges.” Id. at 2. The plaintiff described her retirement on December 1, 2011 as “forced” by the defendant. Id. at 3.

The lawsuit alleged failure to accommodate a disability, discrimination based on a disability, and discrimination based on a perception of a disability under the NJLAD. A jury trial began in April 2017. In June, the jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor of $11.8 million. This sum included awards for past and future lost earnings, future loss of pension, and emotional distress. Punitive damages accounted for $10 million of the total.

If you need to speak to a disability discrimination attorney about a matter in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

Employment Lawsuit in New Jersey Claims Disability Discrimination Based on Obesity, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 5, 2015

Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Claims Defendant Refused to Hire Plaintiff Because of Plaintiff’s Disabled Son, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 9, 2015

Drugstore Chain Settles EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit for $180,000, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 26, 2014

Photo credit: Max Pixel [CC0 1.0].

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