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Exclusive remedy doesn’t bar discrimination claim

Posted On: Jun. 9, 2021 11:03 AM CST


The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state’s exclusive remedy provision in workers compensation law does not bar a school district from being sued for allegedly failing to accommodate a diabetic teacher who fell at work because a late lunch schedule caused her to suffer from low blood sugar.  

Mary Richter experienced a hypoglycemic event in a classroom, suffering serious and permanent life-altering injuries when she fainted and hit her head on a science laboratory table, according to documents in Richter v. Oakland Board of Education, filed in Trenton.

Ms. Richter sued the school district under the state Law Against Discrimination, saying that “in the months leading up to the incident, she repeatedly asked her school principal to change her schedule of teaching and cafeteria monitoring so she could manage her blood sugar levels by having her lunch earlier in the day, but he failed to accommodate her request,” documents state.

The school district moved for a summary judgment on a number of grounds, which two motion judges and later an appellate court denied.

On further appeal the district argued that Ms. Richter was required to establish an adverse employment action — such as a demotion or termination — to be able to proceed with a failure-to-accommodate disability claim. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that an adverse employment action is not a required element for a failure-to-accommodate claim under the Law Against Discrimination.

A second issue raised on appeal was that the claim was barred by the exclusive remedy provision because Ms. Richter received workers comp benefits.

The Supreme Court concluded that Ms. Richter’s discrimination claim was based on the school district’s “alleged failure to accommodate her pre-existing diabetic condition” and thus was not barred by exclusive remedy.