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EEOC Sues New Jersey Health Care Service for Disability Discrimination

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A New Jersey-based health network is facing a federal lawsuit from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for allegedly withdrawing a job offer to a woman due to her pregnancy complications. The suit claims that once the health care organization found out about the victim’s problems, they chose to retract a job offer to her rather than make any accommodations to handle her condition.

What are the Allegations in the Lawsuit?

According to the lawsuit, the health care network offered a woman a job as an EMS dispatcher. She went through all the necessary pre-tests, including a background check, drug test, and health screening. The network scheduled a start date for her, but she never got to it.

About five days before her official start date to work for the company, the pregnant woman was hospitalized and diagnosed with preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a complication that some pregnant women experience that impacts the victim’s circulatory system. It can cause high blood pressure and could pose a risk to a person’s internal organs.

From the hospital, the woman spoke to a Human Resources (HR) representative to inform them about her condition and asked what steps she would need to take. At the time, she fully intended to report for work but was going to require that her start date be pushed back, the lawsuit said. However, within a few hours of her phone call, the woman claimed that she received a voicemail from the health care entity informing her that the job offer had been withdrawn.

What is the EEOC Seeking in the Lawsuit?

The EEOC is claiming that the health care network violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that companies make reasonable accommodations to those workers who suffer from disabilities. The lawsuit is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for the victim along with injunctive relief, which the EEOC is hoping will motivate the health care organization from engaging in any future discrimination in the workplace.

The two sides attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the health care service’s conciliation process. The process failed, meaning the matter is scheduled to move forward to trial.

The EEOC said that the law states that companies must engage with those employees who suffer from disabilities to arrange reasonable accommodations for them. In this case, that did not happen, instead, the victim was met with rejection rather than engagement.

What Laws Protect Disabled Workers in New Jersey?

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and the ADA are the two main laws that protect those with disabilities from discrimination. The NJLAD is the state-level law while the ADA is the federal one. Both prohibit the discrimination of a person based solely on the fact that they have a disability.

The laws also require that employers make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Most employers do attempt to work with employees to accommodate, however, there are those that refuse to make any accommodations. In these instances, a victim should hire an employment lawyer to assist them in the case.

There are employers who will not be direct about denying a person their rights due to their disability. They will use subtle techniques to hide their intentions, such as:

  • Fake or unreasonable job prerequisites.
  • Eliminating candidates based on their disabilities.
  • Lower pay and benefits.
  • Lesser duties and responsibilities.
  • Delaying advancement opportunities.
  • Taking disciplinary action against those who miss work because of their disabilities.
  • Wrongful termination.
  • Failure to make reasonable accommodations.
  • Failure to engage in an interactive process with a disabled worker.

What are Reasonable Accommodations?

There are not any concrete standards of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. Both the NJLAD and the ADA require that an employer engage in a dialog with the employee to discuss the types of accommodations that could be made to assist them.

While there are no definitive standards to describe a reasonable accommodation, there are factors that dictate an employer’s obligation. An employer can take into consideration different circumstances, such as the size of the company, the nature of the affected employee’s job, cost, and the overall impact to the progress of the company.

An employer must engage in a discussion with a person to determine the accommodations that work for them. The employer cannot simply refuse the request without at least an initial discussion. Some possible options include:

  • Wheelchair accessibility
  • Changing job assignments
  • Working remotely
  • Changing job titles and responsibilities
  • Short leaves of absence or periods of temporary disability

What are the Differences Between the NJLAD and the ADA?

The NJLAD provides broader protections for those employees who were discriminated against due to their disabilities. The state law does not require that a victim has a significant limitation in their daily activities.

Another difference between the two laws is that the ADA addresses just discrimination against those with disabilities, but the NJLAD specifically targets those who discriminates against anyone in a protected class. The law covers discrimination against anyone based on the following:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender

The law goes a step further and even makes genetic discrimination illegal. It prevents an employee from requiring an employee to test for an atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait or genetic information.

What Should I Do if I am a Discrimination Victim?

Disability discrimination victims should first hire an employment lawyer who can help them through the process. A lawyer can help gather information and evidence about the case and potentially negotiate a proper settlement.

A victim also has two avenues to bring their complaint. They can file their accusation at the state level with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) or at the federal level with the EEOC. The case will not be impacted by which agency receives the initial complaint. The two have a working relationship and will share the case if the victim requests it.

Some lawyers will caution victims about filing a case with the DCR too quickly. If there is not enough evidence to substantiate a claim, the agency will rule that there is no probable cause and dismiss it. This will prohibit the victim from pursuing the matter further in court. The best course of action is to work with an employment lawyer who will know when the appropriate time is to bring the matter before the DCR.

The DCR does have greater jurisdiction than the EEOC as the federal agency will only take matters that pertain to employers with 15 or more employees. The DCR will address all employers, including those who have one to 14 employees.

What if My Conditions Does Not Rise to the Level of a Disability?

Even if a person suffers from a condition that does not rise to the level of a disability, an employer is still not permitted to discriminate against a person, according to the NJLAD.

If the employer considers an employee to be less useful than what they would like that person to be, or the employer believes the person gets sick more than others or is prone to injury, that is enough to trigger the NJLAD. Even if the person turns out to not have a disability, the employer can still be held responsible for discriminating against a person because of the perceived disability.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Victims of Disability Discrimination

If you feel that you have been discriminated against by your employer because of your disability, contact a Cherry Hill employment lawyer at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We can guide you through your case. Contact us online or call us today at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.

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