SPLIT RULING IN NURSE’S DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION CLAIM

Plaintiff Maryanne Grande worked for Saint Clare’s Health System for 10 years before she was terminated.  During her tenure at the hospital, Grande injured herself while caring for patients on four separate occasions.  Her most recent injury was a neck injury that was incurred while she was attempting to prevent a patient from falling.  As a result of her injury, Grande took FMLA leave, underwent surgery and also received workers compensation benefits.  Her physician initially authorized her to return to work on “light duty” but later issued Grande a certificate to return to work full time, with certain restrictions, which the hospital was aware of.  When the certificate was issued, Grande was informed that she was being terminated because the hospital would not be able to accommodate the restrictions she required.  After she was terminated, Grande met with her physician who issued her an amended certificate allowing her to return to work with no restrictions, full-time.  However, the hospital refused to reverse its decision to terminate her employment.  Grande filed suit against the hospital for disability discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, alleging she was unlawfully terminated because of her disability and perceived disability.

On summary judgment, the lower court judge ruled that Grande could not establish a prima facie case for disability discrimination because she was not physically able to perform the essential duties of her job as a nurse and that defendant-hospital had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to terminate plaintiff.  Plaintiff appealed to the New Jersey Appellate Division.  In a 2-1 decision, the Appellate Division ruled in plaintiff’s favor and held that Grande presented evidence that she is fully capable of performing the essential duties of her job and had not requested an accommodation.  The court held that a jury should evaluate the evidence and reach a verdict on the matter.  As such, the case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

The full decision can be read here.

This Firm will continue to monitor the developments in this case.

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