Recently, the Supreme Court in the state of New Jersey entered a significant decision that could change the way the law is interpreted when it comes to disability discrimination. If employers fail to accommodate claims under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), then the employer could be held responsible in a court of law. Employers are responsible for accommodating disabilities; however, this could be at odds with the current interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, this case could be far from over.
In this case, the plaintiff was a science teacher who taught at a local school. This is science teacher is a type 1 diabetic. She was looking for a change in her assigned lunch period to better accommodate her blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, the school refused to honor this request during one semester. Therefore, she was required to eat lunch at a later time. Because of this later lunch period, she suffered a hypoglycemic event. This means that her blood sugar levels dropped dangerously low, causing her to sustain a personal injury.
First, she obtained workers’ compensation benefits to help her cover some of the expenses related to her medical injury. After this, she filed a complaint with the New Jersey Superior Court. She sought damages related to her emotional distress, physical injuries, and pain and suffering. She stated that her employer did not accommodate her disability claim, which was to have her lunch slot moved to an earlier time to avoid this exact hypoglycemic event.
It is the prevailing interpretation of the law that employers are supposed to do what they can to accommodate the disabilities of their employees. At the same time, there is some debate surrounding what constitutes a “reasonable” request. In this case, the court decided that the request of the teacher was reasonable and that the school system did not accommodate her request.
On the other hand, the decision might break with the current interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, the school might decide to appeal the ruling and seek an interpretation that is more in line with this act. It will be interesting to see where the case goes from here. It could have an impact on similar cases in the future.