Division Announces Findings of Probable Cause in 10 Cases Involving Allegations of Disability Discrimination
TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced today that DCR has issued Findings of Probable Cause in ten cases alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).
The Findings of Probable Cause announced today include eight cases involving alleged disability discrimination by housing providers and two cases involving alleged disability discrimination by employers. The findings of probable cause involve cases in five New Jersey counties: Atlantic, Essex, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Union.
The LAD prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation on the basis of an actual or perceived disability. This means that employers, housing providers, and places of public accommodation must make reasonable accommodations to afford people with disabilities an equal opportunity to access housing, employment, and places of public accommodation as people without disabilities, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.
“As New Jersey’s chief law enforcement officer, one of my duties is ensuring anyone who unlawfully restricts any of our residents’ access to employment or housing on the basis of disability faces consequences,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Today’s enforcement actions reflect our ongoing commitment to eradicating all forms of disability discrimination.”
“Our civil rights laws offer powerful protections against disability discrimination, which far too often remains a pervasive barrier to equal access for people with disabilities,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “The enforcement actions we are announcing today reinforce our commitment to holding employers and housing providers accountable when they discriminate based on disability.”
Seven of the Findings of Probable Cause issued today involve housing providers or real estate brokers who denied tenants or prospective tenants the right to live with an emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation for their disability.
In one Monmouth County case, a landlord allegedly withdrew their offer of a lease after the prospective renter disclosed at the lease signing that they had an emotional support animal (ESA). The housing provider applied its “no pets” policy to the emotional support animal. Under the LAD, however, housing providers cannot deny a prospective tenant an apartment based on their application of a “no pets” policy to the tenant’s emotional support animal. Emotional support animals are not considered “pets” under the LAD. Moreover, if the existence of a disability or the need for the support animal is not readily apparent, a housing provider may request that the renter provide information from a health care professional confirming the existence of a disability and the disability-related need for the animal. However, in such cases housing providers cannot refuse to even consider permitting a tenant to have an ESA.
In a Middlesex County case, a landlord allegedly denied a reasonable accommodation request for an ESA because the dog was a pitbull. The LAD requires the housing provider to engage in an interactive process with the person requesting the accommodation, in order to determine (1) if the person has a disability; (2) if the animal may be necessary to afford the person an equal opportunity to enjoy the dwelling; and (3) whether the animal can be reasonably accommodated, including whether any concerns about the animal can be reduced or eliminated by other reasonable accommodations. The landlord, however, discouraged the prospective tenant from applying based solely on a generalized assumption that the pitbull was dangerous. Housing providers may not limit the breed or size of a dog used as a support animal just because of the breed or size of the dog, but can impose limitations based on specific issues with the particular animal’s conduct. In this case, there was no indication that the landlord’s denial was based on the specific dog’s conduct as opposed to simply its breed.
DCR issued a Finding of Probable Cause in an Atlantic County employment case after an employee who experienced a seizure resulting in hospitalization was terminated by his employer. The employee’s physician indicated that the employee should refrain from using a forklift until he had been seizure-free for six months. The employer fired the employee and refused to engage in an interactive process with the employee, as required by the LAD. The employer provided no evidence that other accommodations were unavailable or that providing the requested accommodation would impose an undue burden on its operations, and DCR’s investigation found that the evidence supported the conclusion that the employee would be able to perform the essential functions of his job without using a forklift.
The Findings of Probable Cause announced today do not represent final adjudication of the cases. Rather, a Finding of Probable Cause means DCR has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion the LAD has been violated. Following a final adjudication on the merits by the Superior Court or by the Office of Administrative Law, a respondent found conclusively to violate the LAD may be required to pay a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation for their first adjudicated violation, and up to $50,000 per violation if they commit multiple adjudicated violations within a five-year period.
To view a Fact Sheet on disability discrimination and the rights of people with disabilities in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation under the LAD, please visit https://www.nj.gov/lps/dcr/downloads/fact-Disability-Discrimination.pdf. People with disabilities who believe their rights under the LAD have been violated can file a complaint with DCR by visiting https://bias.njcivilrights.gov/ or calling 1-833-NJDCR4U (833-653-2748).
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights enforces the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and the Fair Chance in Housing Act, and works to prevent, eliminate, and remedy discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation throughout New Jersey.
To find out more information, go to www.njcivilrights.gov.