A Capehart Scatchard Blog

NJ Supreme Court Holds Adverse Employment Action Not a Required Element of a Failure to Accommodate Claim

By on June 16, 2021 in Labor & Employment with 0 Comments

By: Gitika Kapoor, Law Clerk
Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

On June 8, 2021, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held in Richter v. Oakland Board of Education that an employee is not required to establish adverse employment action such as demotion or termination in a failure to accommodate disability claim brought against an employer under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).  In addition, the Court considered whether the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”). The Court held that the NJLAD and WCA are not in tension with each other, and the WCA did not bar the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

In Richter, a teacher who suffered from Type 1 diabetes was assigned a late lunch period and experienced a hypoglycemic event in the classroom.  As a result, she suffered a seizure, lost consciousness, and struck her head on a lab table and the floor, causing excessive bleeding. She filed a workers’ compensation claim and received compensation for her medical bills and disability benefits. She later brought a NJLAD action asserting a failure to accommodate disability claim against the Oakland Board of Education. In her complaint, she alleged that, despite repeated requests to alter her schedule, the principal failed to accommodate her request to be assigned an earlier lunch time. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Board, which the Appellate Division reversed.

On the NJLAD issue, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a failure to accommodate claim may arise from an “employer’s inaction, silence or inadequate response to reasonable accommodation request,” and that causing harm to the employee through an adverse employment action is not a necessary element of the claim. The Court recognized that a failure to accommodate is itself an actionable harm, because the wrongful act is the employer’s failure to fulfill its duties under the law. Importantly, the Court noted that a lack of demonstrable consequences in the form of adverse employment action may affect damages. 

Regarding the WCA, the Court held that the statute’s exclusive remedy provision did not bar the plaintiff’s NJLAD claim, reasoning that the legislature intended for the NJLAD to supplement other legal remedies. According to the Court, the NJLAD and WCA both aim to protect workers in the workplace and can function harmoniously, without conflicting with each other. Therefore, the WCA did not bar the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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