Linden-based CleanTex, which handles the laundry and linen concession for health care facilities in New Jersey and three other states, fired a Trenton woman from her job as a production worker at the company’s Trenton plant in April 2015. Two days prior to her dismissal, the worker had gone to a hospital emergency room with a severe headache and been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
CleanTex’s ostensible reason for firing the employee, who had been on the job for 10 days, was substandard performance. CleanTex did not dispute that the 26-year-old woman had a perceived disability. However, it maintained that the worker’s lack of productivity– not her brain tumor—was the reason for her dismissal, and told Division investigators the decision to fire her was made prior to her tumor diagnosis.
A CleanTex office manager, though, told the Division a company executive spoke to her about the woman’s brain tumor a day before her firing, and in that conversation characterized it as a “liability.” The Division issued a Finding of Probable Cause against CleanTex in November 2016. The fired employee’s name is being withheld to protect her medical privacy.
“This settlement represents a fair resolution of a troubling matter,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Employers have a legal duty to provide equal opportunity to, and make reasonable accommodation for, workers with a disability. When the appearance is that something else is happening – that a worker with a disability is perhaps being cast out instead of accommodated – our commitment is to investigate and, where appropriate, hold the employer accountable.”
“Being diagnosed with a serious medical condition is stressful enough without also having to worry about getting fired over it,” said Division Director Craig T. Sashihara. “If allowed to stand, this kind of action has the potential to discourage workers from engaging in certain ‘wellness’ practices that are essential for good health — such as having regularly scheduled checkups and seeking early detection.”
In addition to the $75,000 to be paid to the woman, the settlement announced today also contains a $10,000 suspended penalty — payable to the Division on Civil Rights — if CleanTex fails to comply with any of its obligations under the agreement.
Those obligations include creating and distributing a written policy that addresses discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The policy is to include terms addressing disability, and the availability of reasonable accommodations for employees who are disabled or who become disabled. The policy must be written in both English and Spanish, and a copy must be provided to the Division on Civil Rights.
CleanTex also must arrange for all company employees who work in, or have responsibility for, the operations of a CleanTex facility in New Jersey to undergo training in (1) the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and (2) CleanTex’s own policy, once developed, that addresses disability and the availability of reasonable accommodations for employees with a disability.
The training must be conducted with an interpreter present (when the anticipated audience suggests a need), and a copy of the training materials must be submitted to the Division for review at least 10 days before each training session. Each CleanTex employee also must sign an acknowledgment form confirming they attended the training.
In addition to its Trenton facility, CleanTex operates plants in Irvington, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y. The company describes itself as a provider of linen and laundry services for health care facilities in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Under the settlement agreement, CleanTex makes no admission of wrongdoing or liability.
Deputy Attorney General Megan Harris and Division on Civil Rights Investigator Greg Ferrara handled the CleanTex matter on behalf of the State.
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