Despite having already received workers’ compensation, a teacher with diabetes can pursue a lawsuit against her employer for failing to accommodate her condition following a hypoglycemic episode that resulted in life-altering injuries.
The New Jersey Supreme Court found the teacher’s workers’ compensation claim was not related to the failure-to-accommodate lawsuit so did not fall under the exclusive remedy provision.
Mary Richter was a science teacher employed by the Oakland Board of Education.
At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, Richter found her schedule for the first marking period had her eating lunch at 1:05 p.m.
Richter asked the school’s principal to adjust her schedule to have lunch at 11:31 a.m., but after he said he’d look into it, no change was made, according to the Supreme Court decision.
Her schedule was adjusted for the second marking period, but the third marking period saw her lunch time again set at 1:05 p.m.
To maintain her blood sugar levels, Richter would take glucose tablets when she was forced to have the schedule with the later lunch time.
Seizure, extensive injuries
On March 5, 2013, near the end of the period before her lunch, Richter had a seizure from a hypoglycemic event in front of her students.
She lost consciousness, struck her head on a table and then the floor and suffered extensive injuries resulting in:
- total loss of smell
- meaningful loss of taste
- dental and facial trauma
- tingling in her fingers
- extraction of her right front tooth
- implantation of a dental bridge and bone grafts
- altered speech
- neck and shoulder pain
- post-concussion syndrome
- loss of sensation and nerve damage in her legs
- severe emotional distress, and
- decreased life expectancy.
She also lost sick days and had to pay for dental costs not covered by insurance.
Before this incident, she had never before passed out at work.
Richter filed a workers’ compensation claim and received benefits, and she filed a lawsuit against the Oakland Board of Education for failure to accommodate her diabetic condition.
The board claimed the lawsuit was barred by:
- the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision, and
- failure to establish the accommodation claim because there was no adverse employment action against Richter.
A lower court initially ruled Richter’s suit could proceed, but that decision was reversed in favor of the employer.
An appeals court reversed again, finding for Richter, so the school board appealed with the state Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court found Richter’s workers’ compensation benefits are not in conflict with her failure-to-accommodate lawsuit, so the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision does not apply.
It also found that an adverse employment action isn’t required for this type of claim since the wrongful act in question is the employer’s failure to perform its duty, not a further adverse employment action an employee must suffer.