Articles Posted in Unlawful Termination

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Victims of disability discrimination no longer need to shoulder the burden and high expense of retaining a pricey medical expert to come to court to render an opinion establishing their physical, mental and/or emotional disability in question; they can now use their treating doctor for this purpose. So said our New Jersey Supreme Court in a recently decided case entitled Delvecchio v. Township of Bridgewater, — N.J. —, 2016 N.J. LEXIS 335 (2016) where the Court affirmed the reversal of a jury’s verdict of no cause of action against a former dispatcher of the Township of Bridgewater Police Department (the “Bridgewater PD”).

In 2003, Mrs. Delvecchio developed inflammatory bowel syndrome (“IBS”), and began treatment with Dr. Gary Ciambotti (Ciambotti), a gastroenterologist. Dr. Ciambotti wrote to plaintiff’s supervisors and stated that her symptoms were under control as long as she worked regular daytime hours, but would be exacerbated by an assignment to the midnight shift. After repeatedly declining assignments to the midnight shift, Mrs. Delvecchio was asked to resign from her position. She then accepted a lower-paying job as a records clerk for the Township. Plaintiff used more than her allotted sick days, and the Township terminated her employment.

Thereafter, Mrs. Delvecchio filed a New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (the “LAD”) disability discrimination complaint against the Township, Bridgewater PD and individual defendants. She contended, among other claims, that her IBS constituted a disability for purposes of LAD and that defendants failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for that disability when they set the schedule for her work as a police dispatcher. Mrs. Delvecchio disclosed in pretrial discovery that she intended to present the testimony of Dr. Ciambotti to establish his diagnosis of IBS. However, the trial court barred the testimony of Dr. Ciambotti on the grounds that he had not been retained and identified by plaintiff in pretrial discovery as an expert witness and had not prepared an expert report containing his findings. Without the testimony of a physician establishing the nature and extent of her disability, the jury was left with no choice but to conclude that Mrs. Delvecchio had failed to establish that she had a disability preventing her from working midnight shifts.

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Your company is sponsoring a political fundraising luncheon for Donald Trump during work hours and makes clear your attendance is expected.  Must you attend?  How about if your boss insists that all members of the IT team he heads, and to which you are a member, must attend and participate in a prayer breakfast meeting where the pastor from his church will be speaking.  If you refuse to go, are you protected your boss suffer retaliate against you later?  The answer to these questions are found in the New Jersey Worker Freedom from Employer Intimidation Act (“the Act”).

The Act, which was signed into law in 2006, forbids employers from requiring employees to attend any employer-sponsored meetings or participate in any communications with an employer and the employer’s agents or representatives where the purpose of the get-together is to hear about the employer’s opinion(s) about religious or political matters. The Act specifically prohibits an employer and its agents and representatives from discharging, disciplining or otherwise penalizing any employee because the employee in good faith reports a violation or suspected violation of the Act.

Any employee who suffers retaliation in violation of the Act may bring a private civil action against the offending employer and its cohorts. The remedies under the Act include:

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Many of us would like to believe that if we are the victims of discrimination in the workplace, we will be given the opportunity to one day prove that case before a jury of our peers. Unfortunately, sometimes a judge will step in and strip a deserving litigant of that opportunity. This is what recently happened to retired State Police Trooper Robert Repsha in a discrimination case filed in the New Jersey Superior Court entitled Robert Repsha v. New Jersey State Police, Docket No. A-0414-14T3 (App. Div. Mar. 24, 2016).

Trooper Repsha, a Caucasian, now-retired state trooper, filed a lawsuit against his former employer, the New Jersey State Police (NJSP), alleging he was repeatedly passed over for promotions during the period of 2010-2012 in retaliation for having filed a hostile work environment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against an African-American superior officer. Trooper Repsha also alleged that after he suffered a heart attack in October of 2010, the NJSP failed to accommodate him upon his return to work and he was otherwise retaliated against because he sought an accommodation.

No juror ever had the opportunity to hear these allegations of discrimination because a motion judge determined that, among other things, the promotions denied Trooper Repsha after 2010 were “too distant in time” from the 2006 EEOC complaint to be considered actionable. On March 24, 2016, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division issued an opinion agreeing with the motion judge noting, “[t]he mere fact that adverse employment action occurs after the alleged protected activity is not alone sufficient to present or suggest a causal link between the two events.” Accordingly, no jury will never hear Trooper Repsha’s story of discrimination and retaliation.