Disability discrimination violates New Jersey employment laws at the state and federal levels. Employers may not take adverse actions against employees or job seekers because of an actual or perceived disability. Employers who violate these rights may be liable for damages. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency tasked with investigating alleged employment discrimination. It occasionally pursues civil lawsuits against employers on employees’ behalf. It recently announced that it reached a settlement with a New Jersey hospital in a lawsuit alleging disability discrimination.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 uses an expansive definition of disability that includes many conditions, injuries, and illnesses. An impairment may be considered a “disability” if it “substantially limits one or more major life activities” for a person. “Major life activities” may include most daily tasks that people tend to take for granted, as well as most “major bodily functions.” Illnesses or conditions that significantly impair the circulatory system, for example, could be considered a disability under the ADA.
Disability discrimination, as defined by the ADA, may include any act, practice, or policy that “adversely affects the opportunities or status” of an employee or job applicant because of their disability. It also includes failing to make reasonable accommodations for an employee or qualified job applicant, when the accommodation would not pose an undue burden on the employer and would enable the individual to perform their job duties more effectively.
The EEOC filed suit on behalf of a woman who received a job offer from a New Jersey hospital network for a position as an EMS dispatcher. The woman was pregnant at the time she was hired. Shortly before her scheduled start date, she was hospitalized with preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related complication that causes severe high blood pressure and can damage the liver, kidneys, and other organs. The most effective treatment when preeclampsia occurs late in the pregnancy is to induce labor, which is what the woman’s doctor did.
The woman emailed the hospital’s human resources (HR) department while she was in labor at the hospital, according to the EEOC, to notify them of the situation. She stated that, because of the induced labor, she would not be able to attend the employee orientation scheduled the following week. An HR representative reportedly called her several hours later, while she was still in labor, and left a voicemail telling her that they could not hold the position open for her. The baby was delivered successfully that day.
After she was discharged from the hospital, the woman contacted the HR rep, who reportedly told her that she was welcome to apply for the position again later. The woman filed a complaint with the EEOC, which took the position that the hospital withdrew her offer of employment because of her preeclampsia and denied her the reasonable accommodation of allowing her to start the job a few days late.
The EEOC filed suit in a New Jersey federal court in early 2021. It announced a settlement in March 2022. In addition to agreeing to policy changes, training requirements, and monitoring by the EEOC, the employer will pay $77,550 in damages to the woman.
The employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group advocate for the rights of New Jersey and New York employees and job applicants in claims for disability discrimination and other unlawful workplace practices. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.