The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KUGLER, Magistrate Judge
This matter comes before the court on motion by Defendant
Berlin Borough Board of Education ("Defendant" or the "Board")
for summary judgment of Plaintiff Fred Jacques' ("Jacques") claim
that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his
disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Jacques alleges that the Board
failed to provide reasonable accommodations as required by the
ADA. Defendant now argues that because Jacques was not a
"qualified person with a disability," any failure to provide
accommodations did not violate the ADA. Because a material
question of fact remains as to whether Jacques is a qualified
person with a disability, Defendant's motion will be denied. I. Background
Jacques taught Industrial Arts classes for the Board from 1986
until his retirement in 2002. Throughout his teaching career,
Jacques was completely blind in right eye due to a childhood BB
gun accident. Jacques' monocular blindness caused him minimal
impairment until approximately 1998 when he was diagnosed with
glaucoma in his other eye. Although Jacques received treatment
for the glaucoma, the disease diminished his visual acuity and
exacerbated the challenges arising from his monocular vision.
In response to this increased impairment, Jacques requested
accommodations in a letter to the principal Kathie Conaway
("Conaway") in June of 1999. Jacques allegedly received no reply
and made a second request in March of 2001, again receiving no
response. On February 19 and February 28, 2002, Jacques met with
the Board's Interim Superintendent, Thomas Smith ("Smith"), about
his request for accommodations, and Jacques submitted a letter to
the Board on March 14, specifying the accommodations he believed
he required. Specifically, Jacques requested an aide in certain
classes and the elimination of a homeroom period to reduce
paperwork. Jacques claims that he was never offered
accommodations, in spite of these requests.
In April 2002, Jacques met with Smith and Conaway. Jacques
alleges that Smith told him that he could not teach and encouraged him to pursue disability retirement. Similarly,
Conaway recommended a psychiatric disability retirement. Smith
also told Jacques that he would have to obtain a certification in
order to continue teaching. However, Jacques asserts that the
certification was not required by the New Jersey State Department
On April 23, 2002, Jacques filed for disability retirement. On
his application for disability, Jacques stated that
"complications as a result of eye problems . . . make it
impossible for me to carry out my job." (Jacques Aff. Exhibit E).
Jacques submitted medical examination forms from two doctors in
support of his application for disability retirement,
supplementing his claim that he was unable to work. On or about
May 3, 2002, Dr. Arnold Goldman sent a letter to Smith urging the
Board to provide Jacques with his requested accommodations. A few
days later, on or about May 9, 2002, Jacques sent a letter to
Smith informing him that he was applying for disability
retirement. Jacques' application was granted, and he officially
resigned in a letter dated June 19.
II. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied
that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the
nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
The burden of establishing the nonexistence of a "genuine
issue" is on the party moving for summary judgment. Celotex,
477 U.S. at 330. The moving party may satisfy this burden by
either (1) submitting affirmative evidence that negates an
essential element of the nonmoving party's claim; or (2)
demonstrating to the Court that the nonmoving party's evidence is
insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving
party's case. Id. at 331. If the moving party has not fully
discharged its initial burden, its motion for summary judgment
must be denied. Id. at 332. If the moving party satisfies its
initial burden, the nonmoving party "must set forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations
to qualified individuals with disabilities. 42 U.S.C.A. § 12112
(b)(5)(A).*fn1 A qualified person is "an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation,
can perform the essential functions of the employment position
that such individual holds or desires." 42 U.S.C.A. § 12111(8).
Defendant contends that Jacques could not perform the essential
functions of his position as a teacher, and therefore was not
qualified under the ADA. Defendant presents no evidence
indicating that Jacques would have been unable to perform his job
functions, aside from the statements made by Jacques and his
doctors in Jacques' application for disability retirement that
his "eye problems" made it "impossible" for him to carry out his
job. Because the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits
determined that Jacques was indeed unable to work and granted
Jacques' disability retirement application on the basis of these
statements, Defendant argues, Jacques should not now be able to
maintain that he actually was able to perform his job duties.
On its face, a plaintiff's eligibility for disability benefits
appears mutuality exclusive with the ability to bring an ADA
claim. An individual cannot receive disability retirement unless
he convinces the responsible agency that he has a disability so
severe that he is "physically or mentally incapacitated for the
performance of duty and should be retired." N.J.S.A.
18A:66-39(b). On the other hand, a plaintiff cannot successfully
bring a claim under the ADA unless he can demonstrate that he is
capable of performing the essential functions of his job, at least with reasonable accommodations.
However, in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems, Corp.,
526 U.S. 795 (1999), the United States Supreme Court held that
Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") and ADA claims do
"not inherently conflict to the point where courts should apply a
special negative presumption." Id. at 802. Under Cleveland, a
plaintiff's claim that he is "totally disabled" for the purposes
of obtaining disability benefits does not automatically preclude
him from also claiming to be a "qualified individual" under the
ADA, even if the agency granted the request for benefits. Id.
at 798; Detz v. Greiner Industries, ...