Archive for Disability discrimination

Landmark Ruling Issues by New Jersey Superior Court

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.

EEOC v. Safeway, Inc. – Lawsuit for Disability Discrimination During Hiring Process

In a lawsuit filed against Safeway, Inc. today, the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claims that the grocery chain store acted contrary to federal law. EEOC accuses Safeway of refusing to assist and employ a competent deaf applicant for a number of store jobs in Seattle, Washington.

According to the commission, Joel Silbert made an online application in July 2017. Through the application, he sought food, courtesy, produce and Starbucks clerk jobs at a Safeway store located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Silbert was shortlisted for an interview based on his qualifications and experience working similar jobs. Things took a different turn when Silbert revealed that he would need an interpreter for the interview since he was deaf. The in-store hiring recruiter responded to this, saying that she had no idea about providing interpreters. The recruiter declined Silbert’s offer when he provided names and contact details of some interpreters that Safeway could engage for purposes of the interview, saying that she would respond to him. EEOC says that since Silbert did not hear from them, he decided to place several calls to the store over the following week. He was either placed on hold or told that nobody was available.

The act of turning down a qualified applicant based on disability runs contrary to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Before filing suit in US District Court for the Western District of Washington the EEOC had tried to use their conciliation process to negotiate a pre-litigation settlement. Apart from monetary damages for Silbert, the EEOC also seeks injunctive relief, including but not limited to training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the workplace and compliance reporting.

Nancy Sienko, EEOC Seattle Field Director, said that it is important to ensure that fears and stereotypes do not hamper objectivity while evaluating an individual’s potential at the workplace during the hiring process.

Sienko pointed out that in its 2017 – 2021 Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), the Commission had identified six national priorities. Among these priorities was the elimination of barriers in hiring, particularly hiring practices that discriminate against people living with disabilities.

Teri Healy, the Senior Trial Attorney for EEOC, made it clear that this particular applicant not only had the requisite qualifications but was also worthy of being considered for a job at the grocery store. He went on to note that the supervisors he previously worked under were satisfied with his performance and that customers were fond of him. Healy argued that were it not for the disability discrimination that frustrated his efforts to get hired, there was no reason why he would not have done equally well at Safeway.

Multiple Sclerosis Elevated Treatment Expenses Blamed on Firings

It is not unusual for people to blame something over losing their jobs. However, two Alabamians in a bizarre case are blaming the high costs of treating multiple sclerosis (MS) conditions.

The two joined Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips to issue a press statement on August 14, 2018. McPhillips stated that these two cases are a part of a great concern about the challenges faced by people with MS who are not incapacitated in their jobs but need costly treatments.

The Alabama-Mississippi Chapter’s president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Andrew Bell, confirmed that the expenses of drugs used in the treatment of MS have increased considerably to an average of approximately $90,000 annually.

Bell further added that at least a million Americans have MS and almost 6,000 of them reside in Alabama. It was noted that most people with this condition are between ages 20 and 50 and desire to continue working.

In December 2016, Jennifer Akridge of Montgomery got fired at the age of 48 after working at Alfa Insurance for 27 years. She contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and went ahead to file a disability discrimination claim. Also, she filed a lawsuit as provided for by the constitution under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This case is still pending in the Montgomery federal court.

In 1989, Akridge started working for Alfa organization but was later diagnosed with MS in 1993 as documented in her lawsuit. She got named as the company’s employee of the year in 1995.

According to the lawsuit, her condition was known at the company, and she was entitled to an intermittent paid leave. She could do all her jobs and assignments in underwriting by partially working from home.

Since Alfa is self-insured, they were paying for her treatment that included getting MS shots at a monthly cost of $11,000. The company’s director of public relations and communications, Jeff Helms, declined to comment on the ‘pending litigation.’

Helms confirmed in a statement that Alfa does not practice, condone, or tolerate any discrimination based on age, race, gender, mental disability, color, national origin, religion, physical disability or creed.

A former manager of a Weyerhaeuser plant, Robert Doll, 50, of Conecuh County, thinks that he lost his job due to his MS condition. Robert said that he has worked for at least 28 years with nine of those being at Weyerhaeuser for two separate periods, from 2005 to 2010 and from 2013 to 2017.

Doll, who got diagnosed with MS in 2011, was re-hired by Weyerhaeuser to revamp a mill in Castleberry. The mill increased in productivity culminating at having a banner year in 2016. Doll confirmed that he told the company about his MS condition in 2015 after a fall incident during a plant tour in McComb, Mississippi.

Initially, the company accommodated him with his condition, but with the increased costs of treatment, he eventually got fired in November 2017. Doll stated in a press statement that he thinks he lost his job due to his limited mobility, the high cost of treatment; and the reluctance of his superiors to accommodate him with his condition at the workplace.

It is challenging for the disabled who lose their jobs to fight back since legal actions are expensive and they pose uncertain outcomes. Doll confirmed that he wanted to be the voice for all other individuals in the same predicament.

Weyerhaeuser’s director of government affairs, Nancy Thompson, stated that the company avoids making public comments about potential legal matters or personnel decisions.

According to McPhillips, it is challenging to get any relief via the court system in a reasonable time even with the stringent federal laws meant to protect the disabled workers. The reason for this occurrence is partly due to the defendant companies having the capabilities to slow down the court process.

McPhillips believes that it is an uneven field and he plans to seek an audience with state legislators and members of Congress about probable alterations to the law.


UNC School Of The Arts To Allow Graduate Student To Return After Legal Settlement

The idea of giving special treatment to people with disabilities is somewhat controversial. The UNC School of the Arts has had to deal with this issue over the past two years while dealing with a lawsuit from Erin Dickinson, a former graduate student.

Dickinson, a Pennsylvania native, believes that the institution has discriminated against her due to her medical conditions. She suffers from poly-cystic ovary syndrome and migraine headaches, both of which conditions caused her a great deal of debilitating suffering while she attended the school and led to her missing classes. She alleged that the instructors and administration of the school discriminated against her by penalizing her for those absences. In her 26-page complaint, she said that the school played a role in a sequence of actions that led to her expulsion in 2011. The lawsuit was initially filed in the Forsyth Superior Court, but it was moved to the US District Court, as Dickinson claimed that the institution had violated her rights according to the federal American with Disabilities and Rehabilitation acts.

Dickinson had requested that a federal court order that the school clear her academic record and award her a master’s degree or set fair terms for her to complete one at this point.

UNC-teacher-Colavecchia-quoteOne of the defendants, Franco Colavecchia, is a now-retired set design teacher who gave Dickinson an incomplete grade in the spring of 2009. The registrar’s office changed his grade to an F in 2010 because she had not completed the requirements for that course within the academic year. The university has agreed now not to calculate this grade as a part of her GPA. Colavecchia does not agree with the outcome of this lawsuit and believes that the school is not abiding by its own rules. He stated during a telephone interview, “She failed — end of story.”

Dickinson can be readmitted to the school this fall to finish her master’s degree in fine arts and will not be required to live in Winston-Salem while pursuing this degree. The school has also agreed to give her $5,000 in scholarship funds for her thesis and to pay $35,000 of her attorney fees. However, other monetary damages are not included in this settlement.

Dickinson agreed on the settlement on June 24, which was 17 days before the trial was supposed to start in US District Court.