New Jersey Supreme Court Holds Employers Accountable to Accommodate Employee Disabilities

It was an obscure question for anyone other than employment attorneys.  But it was an important one: Must a disabled employee show that she was fired, demoted, suspended or otherwise lost money in order to sue for her employer’s refusal to accommodate her disability?  Strangely enough, the New Jersey Appellate Division said, “Yes” in late 2008.  That bizarre decision destroyed an employee’s right to sue when her employer failed to accommodate her disability unless she was fired.  Think about the impact of that decision.  If an administrative assistant has carpal tunnel syndrome, her employer has no obligation to provide an ergonomic keyboard until it fires her!

Fortunately, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Helen Hoens, held that an employee still can sue when her employer fails to accommodate her disability even where no “adverse employment consequence” occurs (such as termination, demotion, or suspension).  See Victor v. State of New Jersey (September 13, 2010).  While the Supreme Court clearly thought very little of Mr. Victor’s disability discrimination case, it nonetheless stated that an employee is not required to show an adverse employment action to pursue a failure to accommodate claim under the Law Against Discrimination.

Date: September 14, 2010 – Paul Castronovo