Division on Civil Rights Obtains Settlement for Worker Fired After Citing Need to Retrieve Asthma Inhaler

TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that Trane U.S., Inc. has agreed to pay a former employee $45,000 to resolve allegations it violated New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by firing the man after he became short of breath and asked permission to retrieve his asthma inhaler from home.

In addition to paying a monetary settlement to former assembler J.D., of Trenton – the fired worker’s name is being withheld to protect his medical privacy — Trane must submit to Division monitoring of its treatment of employees and job applicants with disabilities, and also put in place policy and training reforms.

“We are committed to protecting workers with a disability, be it physical or mental,” said Attorney General Grewal. “This is an important settlement, not only because it provides justice for the individual victim, but because it requires this employer to revise its policies, train its managers on what unlawful discrimination is and how to avoid it, and implement new measures to ensure fair treatment for its employees.”

A subsidiary of Ingersoll Rand, Trane operates a manufacturing plant in Trenton that makes heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. When the company hired J.D. at a rate of $12 per hour, it was aware of his need to use an inhaler for asthma. Nonetheless, Trane fired J.D. four months into his employment after an incident in which he became short of breath, slowed his work pace on the assembly line, and indicated a need to use his inhaler, which he’d left at his Trenton home.

A Division investigation found that, during the February 2016 incident, J.D. was criticized by a supervisor for falling behind and told the supervisor he needed to retrieve his inhaler from home. At that point J.D., who lived less than three miles from the Trane plant, was told to gather up his backpack and lunch, was escorted from the work area by a supervisor and then left standing at the employee exit doors without an explanation.

J.D. eventually left the plant on advice from another supervisor, as well as the Trane plant security guards. He learned of his firing the following week, after reporting for work and finding his access badge had been deactivated.

A Division investigation found that, despite initial denials by a Trane human resources official of any awareness that J.D. had asthma and used an inhaler, the worker’s condition was recorded in his pre-employment physical. A nurse at the plant also told a Division investigator that J.D.’s record showed he’d experienced an asthma episode on February 23, 2016 – three days prior to the incident that precipitated his firing.

In a Finding of Probable Cause issued earlier this year, Division Director Craig T. Sashihara rejected Trane’s assertion that J.D. was not discriminated against, but rather terminated for walking off the job. Sashihara found that “the weight of the evidence favors Complainant’s version of events.”

In addition to the $45,000 payout – which represents approximately two year’s salary based on J.D.’s hourly wage at the time of his firing – Trane must revise its written policy on disability discrimination. Specifically, the revised policy must make clear that workers with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations, provide specific instruction on how employees can pursue a request for accommodation, and provide detailed information on how employees can file a civil rights complaint with the State.

With regard to training, the company must provide the Division a copy of all training materials to be used. In addition, Trane must permit two Division representatives to sit in on the training sessions. As part of the settlement, Trane also must create a record-keeping system that catalogues requests for accommodation due to a medical condition, as well as any complaint pursued by a worker or applicant alleging disability discrimination, and the outcome of same. A summary of the required information must be submitted to the Division every six months for the next year.

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