Quick Chek employed Erik Martin as a store manager. In 2000, Martin informed his supervisor that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In March of 2008, Martin requested a demotion to an assistant manager position explaining that he was unable to satisfy the job functions of his position. Quick Chek granted his request.
On March 17, 2008 Martin suffered a back injury at work. His physician advised him to take a prescription medication that had previously been prescribed to Martin’s mother-in-law called Darvocet. The next day, Martin had an appointment with his doctor who wrote him a prescription for Percocet.
Quick Chek had a drug abuse policy which required anyone who had been injured at work to submit to a drug test. The drug testing facility reported to Quick Chek that Martin had failed his test because he had taken Darvocet without a prescription. Quick Check terminated Martin’s employment based on its “zero-tolerance drug abuse policy.”
Martin filed a lawsuit challenging his discharge in the Superior Court of New Jersey. He alleged that he was wrongfully terminated and discriminated against in violation of the NJLAD. Quick Check filed a motion to dismiss Martin’s lawsuit which the trial court granted. Martin then filed a motion for reconsideration which alleged, for the first time, that the Company failed to accommodate his disability. He claimed that Quick Chek should have provided an accommodation for his disability (Parkinson’s disease) when he requested a demotion in 2008. The trial court denied this motion.
On appeal, Martin argued that the trial court should not have dismissed his wrongful termination and reasonable accommodation claims. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s rulings. The court did not find that the Quick Chek’s stated reason for Martin’s termination was a pretext for discrimination. The Appellate Division concluded that: “NJLAD is not offended by a private company’s lack of compassion in these circumstances.” With regard to Martin’s failure to accommodate claim, the court ruled that the Company was not required to treat his request for a demotion as an implicit request for an accommodation simply because he was known to suffer from a disability.
This case demonstrates that New Jersey employers are not required to treat an employee’s request for a transfer or job change as a request for an accommodation under the NJLAD merely because the individual suffers from a disability. Rather, employers are required to engage in an interactive process under applicable disability laws when an employee attempts to request an accommodation.