Can You Sue for Disability Discrimination if You Have Not Suffered an Adverse Employment Action?

Like other claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, disability discrimination claims, including claims that an employer failed to accommodate your disability reasonably, usually require you to prove that you suffered an “adverse employment action.” Adverse employment actions include being terminated, demoted, or denied a promotion. In other words, it is usually not enough to show that an employer failed to accommodate your disability. But suppose your employer fails to accommodate your disability, forcing you into a situation that causes you significant harm. In such a situation, can you file a disability discrimination claim under the NJLAD even though you did not suffer an adverse employment action?

Can You File a Disability Discrimination Claim if You Did Not Suffer an Adverse Employment Action?

According to a recent court case, the answer to this question is a limited “yes.” In the case of Richter v. Oakland Board of Education, the Appellate court held that the claimant was not required to prove that her boss took an “adverse employment action” against her under the NJLAD to sustain a “failure to accommodate claim” because the latter resulted in significant harm to the claimant. 

The case involved a claimant who was a teacher with type I diabetes. The teacher requested to be allowed to take her lunch break early (during 5th period) in order to maintain her blood sugar levels. The school maintained that she needed to be on cafeteria duty, thus requiring that she takes her lunch break during 7th period. The school principal, however, told the teacher she was allowed to take a break from cafeteria duty if she felt unwell. Also, the vice principal advised the teacher that she did not have to be on cafeteria duty. However, the teacher’s written schedule remained unchanged, which in turn led to her concluding that she was only to take her lunch break during the 7th period. 

One day the teacher passed out because of a hypoglycemic seizure that happened during her 6th period. She ended up suffering serious and permanent injuries, including facial and dental trauma, complete loss of smell, tingling in the fingers, altered speech, insomnia, tinnitus, and significant loss of taste. The teacher filed a claim under the NJLAD, but the school district tried to dismiss the claim on the ground that she did not suffer an adverse employment action. A lower trial court sided with the school district and dismissed the case. However, the Appellate court allowed the suit to proceed. The court reasoned that the teacher did not have to prove the adverse employment action she suffered under this “unusual situation.”

So, what does this mean? Most plaintiffs will still have to prove they suffered an adverse employment action to have a successful disability discrimination claim. However, if you suffered substantial harm because an employer failed to reasonably accommodate your disability, you may be able to bring a disability discrimination claim without needing to prove “adverse employment action.” That said, ensure you contact a qualified employment lawyer for legal guidance.

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If you believe you have a valid disability discrimination claim, contact our qualified New Jersey employment lawyer at Trabosh Law Firm for a free case evaluation.