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New Jersey Federal Lawsuit Alleges Religious, Disability, and FMLA Discrimination

New Jersey’s antidiscrimination statute protects workers from discrimination on the basis of multiple categories. Federal law supplements these rights, and also protects the right of qualifying workers to unpaid leave for medical purposes. Employers may not take adverse actions against employees or job applicants on the basis of a protected category, nor may they interfere with an employee’s exercise of their right to medical leave. A lawsuit filed in July 2019 in a New Jersey federal court alleges that the plaintiff’s employer committed each of these forms of discrimination. It further alleges that the employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations for the plaintiff’s religious practices and her perceived disability.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, religion, and other factors. This includes failure to accommodate an employee’s “sincerely held religious practice or religious observance,” provided that doing so does not cause “undue hardship” to the employer. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(q)(1). Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, including any “religious observance or practice” that an employer can accommodate without undue hardship. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(j), 2000e-2(a).

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It also requires reasonable accommodations, subject to a similar exception for undue hardship. 42 U.S.C. § 12112. In addition to a wide range of “physical or mental impairment[s],” the ADA defines “disability” as “being regarded as having such an impairment.” Id. at §§ 12102(1)(C), (3). The NJLAD’s definition of “disability” does not expressly include the perception of having a disability. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-5(q).

New Jersey is one of the few states in the U.S. with a paid family leave program. At the federal level, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave during a twelve-month period to qualifying employees of covered employers. 29 U.S.C. § 2612. Employers may not interfere with employees who opt to use leave provided by the FMLA, nor may they discriminate or retaliate against employees who take leave. Id. at § 2615(a).

The plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned above worked as a medical assistant at a hospital in Camden, New Jersey. She describes herself in her complaint as “a practicing Muslim who adheres to the tenets and requirements of her faith.” As part of her religious practice, she wore a sweater over her scrubs in order to “fully cover her back.” During Ramadan, she covered her face with a Niqab. She alleges that she faced discrimination and harassment because of her religion and religious practices. She claims that her supervisor would not grant her an accommodation for her religious attire “unless she brought in a note from the Qu’ran.”

She states that she lost consciousness one day while at work, resulting in a hospital stay and several follow-up doctor appointments. This, she alleges, was perceived as a disability by her employer. Her employer penalized her for missing work to see her doctor. Her lawsuit asserts causes of action under the NJLAD, the ADA, the FMLA, and Title VII.

If you are involved in a religious discrimination dispute with an employer in New Jersey or New York, the employment lawyers at the Resnick Law Group can help you understand your rights and options. Please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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