The present case is an action alleging employment discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. This court had previously granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant on all counts. The matter is now before the court on remand from the Third Circuit with instructions to determine whether the plaintiff is handicapped within the meaning of the LAD. For the following reasons, summary judgment shall be denied as to plaintiff's LAD claim.
Plaintiff, John Olson ("Olson" or "Plaintiff"), commenced his employment with General Electric ("GE")
on April 3, 1988 as a Senior Member, Technical Staff, in the Parts Engineering Department. He reported throughout most of this period to Dale Sansoni ("Sansoni"), the manager of Parts Engineering. In February of 1991, Olson was hospitalized for four months for depression. He returned to work without incident on May 31, 1991, although Sansoni gave him as much time off as he needed. On September 11, 1991, GE informed Olson that due to adverse business conditions, it was forced to lay him off, along with hundreds of other employees, as part of a general reduction in force.
Nearly a year later, Olson learned of an opening for the position of Quality Assurance Specialist at GE's East Windsor, New Jersey, facility. The successful candidate was to report to Sansoni. Upon learning of the opening, Olson had telephoned Sansoni, who encouraged him to apply for the position. Plaintiff did so on September 9, 1992. He was initially one of four candidates, but of the four, Sansoni interviewed only Olson. GE contends that because Sansoni was already familiar with plaintiff's work, they focused at the interview on Olson's experiences since leaving GE. Olson claims that during the interview, Sansoni asked him if he had any further medical developments, and that approximately one-third of the interview concerned his health and marital status. According to Olson, Sansoni discussed the medication Olson was taking, a one-month hospitalization that Olson had admitted himself to for testing, and an overnight hospitalization that Olson had undergone in order to diagnose a possible sleep disorder. Olson maintains that he told Sansoni that all of the tests had been negative, and that the doctors had informed him the most likely diagnosis was simply a sleep disorder. However, plaintiff's psychologist later diagnosed him with Multiple Personality Disorder with depressive episodes, in addition to a sleep disorder. According to plaintiff, Sansoni told him that he would recommend that Olson be hired for the position and that he would not be interviewing the other applicants.
A few days after Sansoni interviewed Olson, a co-worker gave Sansoni the resume of Jeffrey Venditte. The co-worker had previously worked with Venditte at Hughes Aircraft Company and highly recommended him to Sansoni. One week after meeting with the plaintiff, Sansoni interviewed Venditte. Although Sansoni considered both Olson and Venditte qualified for the job, he recommended to his superior, Christina Eggert ("Eggert"), that GE hire Venditte. Sansoni believed that Venditte had better experience than Olson respecting two principal job requirements: parts overstressing and failure analysis. Sansoni also believed that Venditte's work at Hughes and ITT Corporation would be valuable to GE. Sansoni and Eggert discussed both candidates' qualifications, but did not discuss Olson's medical history. Eggert, who made the final hiring decision, agreed with Sansoni's recommendation and hired Venditte. On October 21, 1992. Sansoni telephoned the plaintiff to inform him that another candidate had been chosen for the job.
On November 4, 1992, plaintiff filed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC") a charge of discrimination against GE. The EEOC conducted an investigation and on December 13, 1993, issued a no-cause determination. Olson then filed a complaint with this court on March 11, 1994, alleging that GE rejected him for the position of Quality Assurance Specialist in violation of the ADA and LAD. GE moved for summary judgment before this court on May 18, 1995. By order dated June 20, 1995, this court granted summary judgment to GE on all counts. Plaintiff appealed. By order dated December 5, 1996, the Third Circuit affirmed this court's ruling that Olson had failed to prove that he was "disabled" within the meaning of the ADA, but reversed the grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's ADA claim that GE regarded him as disabled. Olson v. General Elec. Astrospace, 101 F.3d 947 (3d Cir. 1996). The Third Circuit also reversed the grant of summary judgment on Olson's LAD claim. While this court had originally determined that Olson's LAD claim must fail for the same reasons the court dismissed his ADA claim, the Third Circuit stated that it might be possible for the plaintiff to be handicapped under the LAD without being disabled under the ADA. Accordingly, the Third Circuit remanded the issue to this court, with instructions to consider whether Olson demonstrated that he is handicapped as defined by the LAD.
The ADA defines the term "disability," in relevant part, as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A). The Third Circuit affirmed this court's finding that Olson had failed to demonstrate that his impairments substantially limited his major life activities. Accordingly, Olson was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, and summary judgment was granted in favor of GE on this count. The LAD employs the term "handicapped," and defines the term, in relevant part, as follows:
"Handicapped" means suffering from . . . any mental, psychological, physiological or neurological conditions which prevents the normal exercise of any bodily or mental functions or is demonstrable, medically or psychologically, by accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques.
Defendant in this case maintains that the definition of handicap under the LAD does not deviate from the definition of disability under the ADA. Defendant argues that the requirements for showing handicap under the LAD are analogous to the ADA's requirement that the purported condition interfere with a major life activity, and since Olson cannot meet his burden under the ADA, his LAD claim must also fail. However, courts have explicitly ruled that the LAD has no such major life activities handicap requirement. Gimello v. Agency Rent-A-Car Systems, 250 N.J. Super. 338, 358, 594 A.2d 264 (App. Div. 1991); Illingworth v. Nestle U.S.A., Inc., 926 F. Supp. 482, 488 (D.N.J. 1996) ("the LAD, unlike the Americans With Disabilities Act, has no such 'major life activities handicap' requirement") (citing Gimello). Accordingly, the court's analysis of Olson's ADA claim is not determinative of his LAD claim. The Third Circuit affirmed that, procedurally, claims brought under the ADA and the LAD are analyzed identically under the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668, 93 S. Ct. 1817 (1973). Olson, 101 F.3d at 956. However, the analysis of a plaintiff's substantive claim differs under the ADA and LAD. Gimello, supra ; Illingworth, supra.
New Jersey courts have repeatedly emphasized the broad remedial nature of the LAD, and have admonished that it should be construed liberally. In Andersen v. Exxon Co., 89 N.J. 483, 446 A.2d 486 (1982), the New Jersey Supreme Court determined that the LAD was intended to cover more than just "severe" disabilities. The Court later clarified that the LAD is remedial social legislation deserving of a liberal construction, and that the statutory definition of "handicapped" is very broad in its scope. Clowes v. Terminix International Inc., 109 N.J. 575, 590-95, 538 A.2d 794 (1988). In Clowes, the Court determined that alcoholism is a handicap within the meaning of the LAD. The court reasoned that
as generally understood by the medical profession, alcoholism is a disease that manifests itself by both physical and psychological symptoms. Depending on the symptoms presented in any one case, an alcoholic might suffer from either a "physical disability [or] infirmity . . . which is caused by illness," or from a "mental [or] psychological . . . disability resulting from psychological, physiological or neurological conditions which . . . is demonstrable, medically or psychologically, by accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques."
Id. at 594 (citing N.J.S.A. 10:5-5(q)). For the same reasons, substance abuse is likewise a handicap under the LAD. Matter of Cahill, 245 N.J. Super. 397, 585 A.2d 977 (App. Div. 1991). In Gimello, the court determined that obesity was a handicap which entitled the obese person to LAD protection. The court reached this conclusion because the plaintiff's obesity "was a recognized medical condition for which he sought legitimate treatment but with modest success." Gimello, 250 N.J. Super. at 355.
New Jersey courts have not yet ruled on whether depression and other mental illnesses constitute handicaps as defined by the LAD. However, the reasoning articulated in Clowes and Gimello are equally applicable to the present case. Olson's doctor, Dr. Lewis Giles, reported:
Mr. Olson's diagnosed condition is Multiple Personality Disorder (also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder), DSM-IIIR 300.14, with depressive episodes secondary to dissociative symptomatology, DSM-IIIR 311.00. Mr. Olson's dissociative condition appears to be nearly life-long in duration and has been evidenced in his adult life by several acute psychiatric hospitalizations. The persistence of this disability over Mr. Olson's life-span may be attributed to a failure of accurate diagnosis and to consequent ineffective treatment. At the present time, given adequate continuing therapy, the prognosis for Mr. Olson appears to be good.