Although there is no bright-line rule as to what constitutes an adverse employment action, New Jersey state and federal courts have held that actions causing direct economic harm (such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, or adjusting wages or benefits) qualify as adverse actions sufficient to support a prima facie case of employment discrimination. Domino v. Cty. of Essex, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26261 (D.N.J. decided February 11, 2021); see also Campbell v. Supreme Court of New Jersey, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 176647, 2014 WL 7343225, at *6 (D.N.J. Dec. 23, 2014) (citing Durham Life Ins. Co. v. Evans, 166 F.3d 139, 152-53 (3d Cir. 1999)). However, this leaves open the question of whether a disabled employee may pursue a failure to reasonably accommodate disability discrimination claim under New Jersey’s Law against Discrimination (LAD) when there has been no direct economic harm adverse employment action taken against the employee. In Richter v. Oakland Bd. Of Educ., 459 N.J. Super. 400 (App. Div. 2019) our Appellate Division answered this question and did so in the affirmative.
Plaintiff Mary Richter was a middle school teacher who suffers from diabetes, alleges she fainted while teaching due to low blood sugar levels when she was unable to eat lunch at an earlier class period and suffered significant and permanent injuries. She contends the accident would not have occurred had the Oakland Board of Education defendants granted her accommodation as required under New Jersey’s LAD to miss cafeteria duty so that she court eat lunch earlier to avoid a decrease in her blood sugar levels. The Defendants claimed to the contrary that they did not require Ms. Richter to work cafeteria duty and because they did not deny her a requested accommodation, they did not violate the LAD.
Because Richter was not fired or reassigned to another position, the motion judge below determined Richter could not establish a prima facie case of adverse employment action, and the motion judge concluded as well that plaintiff’s injuries were not due to defendants’ action but rather due to Richter’s personal decision to continue attending cafeteria rather than eating. Accordingly, the judge granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing Richter’s complaint, denied Richter’s cross-motion for summary judgment, and denied reconsideration of the dismissal. Richter appealed.