Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), when an employee suffers injury due to their employer’s failure to accommodate his or her disability, the employer is liable for discrimination under LAD even when no direct economic harm or other form of adverse employment action was taken by the employer against the employee. Richter v. Oakland Board of Education, 2021 N.J. LEXIS 548, 2021 WL 2324982 (decided June 8, 2021). This is because the wrongful discriminatory act under LAD is the employer’s failure to perform its duty to accommodate an employee’s disability such as the one suffered by schoolteacher Mary Richter.
Plaintiff Mary Richter, a science teacher in the Oakland School District, is a type 1 diabetic and experienced a hypoglycemic event in a classroom, which resulted in severe, life-altering injuries. At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, Richter’s lunch was scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Richter believed such a late lunch would negatively impact her blood sugar levels and asked the defendant, the principal of the school, if the schedule could be changed to allow her to have lunch earlier to better maintain her diabetic condition. No change was made. Richter resorted to ingesting glucose tablets to maintain her blood sugar levels. An adjustment was made during the second marking period; however, in the third marking period, Richter was again scheduled for lunch at 1:05 p.m. In that third marking period, Richter suffered a hypoglycemic event in the class period before her scheduled lunch, seizing up, losing consciousness, and striking her head upon her fall, which resulted in extensive bleeding and injury. Richter was not terminated, demoted, or reassigned to another position, but filed an action against the school board under the LAD for failure to accommodate her disability. Prior to filing an action under the LAD, Richter filed a workers’ compensation claim for the work-related injuries and recovered for her medical bills and disability benefits.
Under the LAD, there is no explicit section addressing a reasonable accommodation or claim; however, New Jersey courts have consistently found the LAD requires employers to reasonably accommodate for an employee’s disability. Royster v. NJ State Police, 227 N.J. 482, 499 (2017). An employer is obligated to accommodate for an employee’s disability “unless it would impose an undue hardship on the operation on the business.” Potente, 187 N.J. at 110 (quoting N.J.A.C. 13:13-2.5(b)). To establish a failure-to-accommodate claim under the LAD, a plaintiff must establish that he or she (1) qualifies as an individual with a disability or is perceived as having a disability; (2) is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) that the defendant failed to reasonably accommodate his or her disabilities. Royster, 227 N.J. at 500.