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Granziel v. City of Plainfield

January 31, 1995

RICHARD R. GRANZIEL, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF PLAINFIELD, A MUNICIPALITY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, AND RUBY HODGE, JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from a remand to the Superior Court New Jersey, Law Division, Union County.

Before Judges Wallace and Kleiner.

Kleiner

The opinion of the court was delivered by

KLEINER, J.A.D.

In this opinion, we will analyze the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42 (LAD), and particularly, the equitable remedy of job reinstatement permitted in N.J.S.A. 10:5-17.

Plaintiff Richard R. Granziel, Jr. appeals from an order which denied his petition seeking his reinstatement to the position of Sanitary Inspector Trainee with defendant City of Plainfield. That order was entered at the completion of a nonjury trial which was conducted pursuant to a remand from this court in a prior unpublished opinion (A-5133-90T1, June 9, 1993). Prior to our remand, defendant abolished the position of Sanitary Inspector Trainee. The duties originally assigned to that position were thereafter assigned to the position designated Public Health Inspector. In our remand order, we directed the trial court to consider the feasibility of plaintiff's reinstatement. The trial court concluded that plaintiff was not entitled to reinstatement. We are constrained to reverse that judgment.

I

Plaintiff was hired as a Sanitary Inspector Trainee by defendant on May 4, 1987. The New Jersey Department of Personnel describes a Sanitation Inspector as one who "walks or rides in a vehicle in order to visually examine the condition of refuse ...." A Sanitary Inspector is "required to possess a driver's license valid in New Jersey only if the operation of a vehicle, rather than employee mobility, is necessary to perform the essential duties of the position."

Plaintiff suffered an epileptic seizure while on the job on September 8, 1987. Plaintiff was subsequently placed on involuntary sick leave. On December 10, 1987, he was notified by the Department of Motor Vehicles that his driver's license would be suspended effective December 25, 1987. Plaintiff was terminated by defendant's City Administrator by letter dated January 6, 1988.

Plaintiff instituted suit against defendants alleging that he was unlawfully terminated from his employment on the basis of his epilepsy handicap. Plaintiff's complaint contained two counts. In count one, he alleged unlawful discrimination for the period from September 8, 1987 until December 25, 1987, in prohibiting him from work without a valid driver's license. In count two, he alleged unlawful discrimination from December 25, 1987, in failing to accommodate his handicap following notice of suspension of his driver's license. Plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees and "whatever other relief the court deems equitable and just."

After a three day trial in February 1991, a jury awarded plaintiff $15,000 in compensatory damages for the period of involuntary leave from September until December 1987, and $60,000 in compensatory damages or "front pay" for the period after his December 1987 termination. The jury also awarded him $5,000 in punitive damages. Plaintiff's June 1991 post-trial motion for reinstatement was denied and plaintiff appealed.

In our opinion on appeal, we concluded that reinstatement was an available remedy under the LAD. We stated:

One of the remedies available under N.J.S.A. 10:5-17 is reinstatement. Since reinstatement is an equitable remedy, the trial Judge should decide whether reinstatement is feasible. Id. Nevertheless, we recognize that although reinstatement would avoid future lost earnings, reinstatement may not be feasible. There may be no position available at the time judgment is rendered and there may be other reasons that would make reinstatement an inappropriate remedy. In that case future damages would be appropriate.

.... We conclude that plaintiff's claim for reinstatement should be considered and decided by the trial Judge. If reinstatement is ordered, a ...


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