The duty to provide “reasonable accommodation” to an employee with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) poses significant challenges and legal risks to employers. Determining when an employee’s request for a workplace accommodation is “reasonable” and thus must be accommodated, verses an “unreasonable” one that can be rejected by the employer, is often the subject of costly legal challenges. A recent decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division shows how employers who implement an ongoing “interactive process” as well as offer reasonable accommodations along the way can successfully defend claims of disability discrimination.
Plaintiff Robin Thomas was employed by the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) as a secretarial assistant, a role requiring interaction with co-workers and access to her unit’s files. In 2000, Thomas was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that was adversely affected by cold and requested a work area without direct exposure to air conditioning. The DOC accommodated that request.