relapse caused him to go out on a stress leave on June 28, 1990, after being diagnosed by the director of AT&T's Medical Department as suffering from depressive disorder.
While out on disability leave, Gaul was contacted by Tang Jampathon, a supervisor from the Cordless Telephone Department. Jampathon was interested in having Gaul work on a project for which Gaul's skills were required. Gaul explained to Jampathon that he would be unable to handle a stressful work environment. Jampathon assured him that the people in the department were very supportive, and that "things [were] going to be okay." Jampathon Dep. at 33:5-12. While on disability leave, Gaul began seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Morris Reby, who authorized Gaul's return to work on a "limited basis" on September 4, 1990. Gaul asserts that when he returned to work, he repeatedly explained Dr. Reby's instructions that measures needed to be taken to attempt to curtail and respond to any workplace-related stress or conflicts that would be likely to aggravate his depression again.
Gaul performed successfully upon returning to work. However, in December 1991, he was assigned to work with Donovan Folkes on the "International Project," also known as the "Herring Project." Almost from the outset, Gaul and Folkes had difficulty working together, resulting in a constant source of stress for Gaul. Gaul claims that Folkes began using information from Gaul's database and not sharing information with him, and that Folkes took credit for Gaul's ideas. Over the next nine months, Gaul contacted various people at AT&T concerning his difficulty in his new position with Folkes. He first attempted to resolve the problems with Folkes himself, but when these attempts were unsuccessful, he made Jampathon aware of his difficulties in February 1992. Gaul then also attempted to obtain help from Paul Newland, who served as team leader on the Herring Project. Gaul later spoke with Patricia Kaufman, an Ombudsperson at AT&T. Neither Newland nor Kaufman assisted Gaul with his difficulty.
Beginning in May 1992, Edwin Muth replaced Jampathon, who had transferred to Singapore. Gaul asserts that he spoke with Muth about his problems in working with Folkes on numerous occasions between May and September. Gaul claims he specifically asked Muth to remove him from the project and to place him on a less stressful assignment. Between March and August, Gaul also met with Steven Bourne, the Department Head, on at least six occasions and requested that action be taken. The parties dispute whether Gaul expressly requested a transfer before August 1992. At that time, Gaul contacted Bourne and advised him that things were getting worse, and that he wouldn't be able to work under those conditions much longer. He told Bourne that he was going to have a nervous breakdown if he did not receive help. At that meeting, Gaul explicitly asked to be transferred off the project. Bourne did not give him an answer regarding the transfer at that time, although Muth asserts that he and Bourne had decided after the August meeting that Gaul would be reassigned. Gaul was not notified of any decision, however, and did not follow up on the request. Approximately two weeks after the meeting, on September 11, 1992, Gaul again went out on disability leave and has not returned to work. Gaul began collecting disability payments from AT&T's disability insurance plan and later collected benefits from the Social Security Administration, which determined that he became totally disabled on September 14, 1992.
On September 9, 1994, Gaul filed a complaint against AT&T, alleging four causes of action. In the first count, Gaul alleges that he was handicapped within the meaning of the NJLAD, and that AT&T violated the NJLAD by failing to accommodate his alleged handicap. In the second count, Gaul alleges that AT&T violated public policy as embodied in the ADA by failing to accommodate his disability. In the third and fourth counts, respectively, Gaul alleges that AT&T breached a contract with him and breached an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Discovery has been taken, and AT&T now moves for summary judgment in its favor, dismissing plaintiff's complaint.
The entry of summary judgment is appropriate only if the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of making a prima facie showing that he is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). In order to prevail, the movant must "produce credible evidence that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial." Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 362 (3d Cir. 1987). This may be done by identifying those portions of the pleadings and evidentiary submissions believed to demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Id. The movant need not, however, support its motion with materials negating the opponent's claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 (emphasis in original).
Upon such affirmative showing, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with affidavits or other competent proof which sets forth specific facts showing that there is indeed a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). The nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Id. at 586. A disputed fact is "'material' if it would affect the outcome of the suit as determined by the substantive law." Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986)). An issue of fact is "genuine" only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. All evidence submitted must be viewed in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Gray, 957 F.2d at 1078.
As a threshold matter, the defendant argues that Gaul has not demonstrated that he is handicapped or disabled within the meaning of the NJLAD or ADA, and therefore does not fall within the protection of those statutes. Taking all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, this court initially concludes that plaintiff has satisfied his burden of demonstrating that there is at least a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he suffers from depression and anxiety disorders. Gaul has been diagnosed with depression-related illness and stress disorders for over ten years, including a diagnosis of depressive disorder by the director of AT&T's Medical Department. The defendant argues that Gaul cannot establish the fact of his alleged disability because New Jersey law requires expert testimony to prove that the employee is handicapped. The defendant cites Clowes v. Terminix International, Inc., 109 N.J. 575, 597, 538 A.2d 794 (1988), in which the New Jersey Supreme Court held that "expert medical testimony is required to establish the fact of the employee's [handicap]." AT&T states that because the plaintiff never identified any expert witnesses to the court or to the defendant, Gaul may not now put forth testimony to prove he was disabled.
The court finds that Gaul has satisfied the requirement in Clowes with the testimony of treating physicians who have been previously identified. Clowes simply required that a plaintiff put forth competent medical evidence that he actually suffered from the ailment he claims is his disability. In that case, the plaintiff claimed he was disabled because he was an alcoholic, but he produced no evidence that he in fact suffered from alcoholism. This court does not find that the Clowes court intended to institute any formal requirement of "expert" testimony. It is well settled that treating physicians may testify as to any subject relevant to the evaluation and treatment of their patients. Stigliano v. Connaught Labs, 140 N.J. 305, 314, 658 A.2d 715 (1995); Ginsberg v. St. Michael's Hospital, 292 N.J. Super. 21, 678 A.2d 271 (App. Div. 1996). For the purposes of this motion, the testimony and documentary evidence by plaintiff's treating physicians, including that by defendant's own physicians, will be deemed sufficient to establish that Gaul does in fact suffer from stress and depressive disorders.
The next, and more fundamental question, however, is whether a plaintiff who suffers from depression and stress disorders qualifies as disabled or handicapped under the ADA or NJLAD. The ADA provides that the term "disability" means, with respect to an individual:
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
(B) a record of such impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment.