On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-2628-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 2, 2007
Before Judges Coburn and Chambers.
Plaintiff, F. Blaise Curcio, appeals from the order granting the defendant, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey ("U.M.D.N.J.") summary judgment and dismissing the complaint. Plaintiff brought this suit under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (the "LAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49, contending that defendant failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his disability, thereby, violating the LAD. Under the facts and circumstances presented here, when looking at the competent evidence from the point of view most favorable to plaintiff, no rational fact finder could hold that defendant's conduct violated the LAD. We affirm.
Plaintiff was hired by U.M.D.N.J. as an untenured clinical professor of dentistry in 1989. He eventually became the director and vice chair of the Department of General Dentistry, although he continued to do clinical teaching while he held those positions.
In March 2002, at his request, plaintiff received a medical leave of absence due to a diagnosis of malignant hypertension which is a condition involving dangerously high blood pressure. He also suffered from headaches and dizziness, and appears to have experienced at least one incident of unconsciousness. In addition, he indicated that he would drop things unintentionally. Plaintiff was allowed to remain out of work for a total of fifteen months, which included six months medical leave. (Plaintiff's period of leave was longer than the maximum twelve-month period allowed by the provisions in the U.M.D.N.J. faculty handbook.) During this period, plaintiff acknowledged that he experienced poor balance, unsteady gait, fatigue, and depression. Throughout this period of time, plaintiff's doctors indicated that he was unable to work.
On May 16, 2003, U.M.D.N.J. wrote to plaintiff to find out when he would be able to return to his faculty position and to advise that he could ask for a reasonable accommodation. The letter indicated that due to the staffing needs of the department, his medical leave could not be extended further and his position would be terminated if he did not return to work. A reply was requested by May 23, 2003.
Upon receipt of the letter, plaintiff met with Dr. Robert Flinton, the department chair, on May 29, 2003. Plaintiff indicates that he told Flinton he wanted to return to work and requested a reasonable accommodation. However, plaintiff never specified what accommodation he needed.
According to Flinton, plaintiff requested an administrative position, but none was available. Plaintiff could not resume his administrative duties as director of the department because by then the department had been merged with another into a newly formed Department of Restorative Dentistry. This merger had been planned before plaintiff took his medical leave and had eliminated plaintiff's administrative position. The department needed plaintiff to work in his position as a clinical professor, which included working with students on live patients. Having heard nothing further from plaintiff, U.M.D.N.J. wrote to plaintiff on June 17, 2003, terminating his position. At that point, defendant still had not received any documentation from plaintiff's physicians clearing him for full-time work.
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in March 2005, contending that U.M.D.N.J., in violation of the LAD, failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his disabilities. After the parties engaged in discovery, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted on November 17, 2006. This appeal followed.
Plaintiff raises the following issues on appeal:
The court erred in holding that the plaintiff did not raise a genuine issue of material fact showing that the defendant failed to ...