In a case involving the interaction between the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the New Jersey Worker’s Compensation Act, the Supreme Court recently held that a plaintiff who failed to attempt to enforce a worker’s compensation claim could not make a claim for failure to accommodate under the LAD, and further ruled that medical treatment does not qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the LAD. Caraballo v. City of Jersey City Police, et al., – N.J. – (2019).
Plaintiff, Frank Caraballo, joined the Jersey City Police Department in 1973 as a police officer. He later became a detective. Ultimately, he sustained injuries in an on-the-job accident and filed a worker’s compensation claim.
Plaintiff was deemed a candidate for knee replacement surgery but refused to see a doctor who would be able to determine whether or not he could have the surgery. He retired after being informed that the department would apply for an involuntary disability pension on plaintiff’s behalf. He settled his worker’s compensation claim and then shortly thereafter filed a complaint against the police department asserting a cause of action under the LAD claiming that it had failed to authorize his knee replacement surgery and, therefore, failed to reasonably accommodate his disability.
The Supreme Court rejected his claim. The court first held that plaintiff’s failure to utilize the Worker’s Compensation Act’s administrative remedies to obtain the replacement surgery precluded his failure to accommodate claim under the LAD. The court next held that the alleged failure to provide an employee with knee surgery cannot serve as the basis for a viable failure to accommodate claim under the LAD.
The court noted that the question of whether medical treatment qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the LAD was an issue of first impression. The court concluded that while the LAD imposes a duty on an employer to modify the work environment and remove workplace barriers in an attempt to accommodate a physical disability of an employee, it does not require the employer to acquiesce to a disabled employee’s requests for certain benefits or remuneration.