James Riconda worked for US Foods, Inc. as a warehouse selector for about two years before he was fired. A few days prior to his termination, Riconda became ill and exhibited symptoms of the stomach flu. Riconda informed his supervisor, who allowed him to take a break, but his symptoms continued to worsen. At the time when this happened, Riconda did not have any sick days left at work. Riconda went to the hospital and informed his employer that he would not be at work for a few days and that upon his return, he would provide a doctor’s note. When Riconda returned to work, his supervisor fired him.
Riconda sued and alleged that his stomach virus rendered him disabled for the period of time when he had to miss work. Riconda argued that he was considered “disabled” under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). Riconda also alleged that US Foods failed to accommodate his disability and decided to fire him instead.
The elements of discrimination that a plaintiff must establish under the NJLAD are as follows: (1) plaintiff is in a protected class; (2) plaintiff was otherwise qualified and performing the essential functions of the job; (3) plaintiff was terminated; and (4) the employer thereafter sought similarly qualified individuals for that job.
This case hinged upon Riconda’s ability to prove the first element – that he was a member of a protected class. There are various protected classes, such as religion, gender, national origin, race, and disability. In this case, Riconda alleged he had a disability that qualified him as a member of a protected class. The NJLAD provides a detailed definition for “disability,” which is classified as a “physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement” that includes, but is not limited to, “amputation, lack of physical coordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment . . . or any mental, psychological or developmental disability, including autism spectrum disorders . . . “
Despite the broad definition under the NJLAD, the New Jersey Appellate Court in Riconda held that the plaintiff’s condition was not considered a disability. A stomach virus is much more common than the conditions listed above in the NJLAD definition. A stomach virus is also temporary in nature, so it does not meet the severity of something that constitutes a disability.
In other cases, the Appellate Court has similarly held that temporary conditions, such as bladder infections or one-time seizures, were not considered disabilities. In order for a condition to be categorized as a disability, it must be permanent and must also meet a certain degree of severity.
If you are dealing with workplace discrimination based on a disability, want to learn more about this case or the NJLAD, or if you have questions about any other legal matter, please contact Ward, Shindle, and Hall for a free consultation.