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Mere accommodation request may support retaliation claim

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

The ADA and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibit disability discrimination and require employers to accommodate disabled employees if doing so is reasonable.

Both laws also make it illegal to retaliate against disabled employees who engage in what the law calls “protected activity.” Filing an EEOC complaint, testifying against an employer or cooperating in a government investigation are protected activities.

So are more informal activities, such as discussing accommodations with a supervisor or HR. Any action that can be viewed as punishment for asking for accommodations may then become the basis for a retaliation lawsuit.

Recent case: Jean Connolly, who was 61 years old and suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, told her supervisors that she needed a special chair, a special mouse for her computer and a footstool as reasonable accommodations. She got the items, but claimed that from then on her supervisors treated her differently. She sued under the ADA and NJLAD, alleging retaliation.

Her employer claimed just asking for an accommodation couldn’t be the basis for retaliation—she should have to show that she filed a complaint or took some other more substantial action.

But the court sided with Connolly. Informal complaints to management are also protected activities, the court ruled, as is a simple request for reasonable accommodations. She’ll get a chance to persuade a jury her employer punished her for the requests and disability disclosure. (Connolly v. Mitsui, No. 04-5127, DC NJ, 2007)

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