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Wojtkowiak v. New Jersey Motor Vehicle Comm'n

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

January 2, 2015

ROBIN B. WOJTKOWIAK, Complainant-Appellant,
v.
NEW JERSEY MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION and NEW JERSEY DIVISION ON CIVIL RIGHTS, Respondents-Respondents

Argued November 10, 2014

Approved for Publication January 2, 2015.

Page 520

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 521

On appeal from the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, Docket No. PL11MG-63480.

Alan H. Schorr argued the cause for appellant ( Alan H. Schorr & Associates, P.C., attorneys; Mr. Schorr and Arykah A. Trabosh, on the briefs).

Megan J. Harris, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ( John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Ms. Harris, on the brief).

Nonee Lee Wagner, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission ( John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Ms. Wagner, on the brief).

Before Judges SABATINO, SIMONELLI, and LEONE. The opinion of the court was delivered by LEONE, J.A.D.

Page 522

[439 N.J.Super. 7] OPINION

LEONE, J.A.D.

Complainant Robin B. Wojtkowiak appeals from the finding by the Division on Civil Rights (Division) that there is no probable cause justifying her complaint under N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(f) of New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42. The central issue on appeal is whether the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) discriminated against her by requiring her to appear at the nearest MVC location to be photographed for her driver's license. We hold that where the extent of a LAD claimant's disability is relevant to the reasonableness of the accommodations offered

Page 523

or demanded, the claimant must establish it by expert medical evidence. Because the extent of complainant's disability is not readily apparent from her medical evidence, we affirm.

I.

The Division conducted an investigation of complainant's claim. The Division's Findings of Investigation included the following facts concerning the MVC photo requirement. In about 2002, the MVC began to require digital driver's licenses containing a digital picture, for which all applicants had to appear in person at the motor vehicle agency. See N.J.S.A. 39:3-10f; see also N.J.S.A. 39:3-29.4. Around 2011, the MVC instituted the Enhanced Digital Driver's License (EDDL) system to comply with federal laws [439 N.J.Super. 8] imposing more stringent requirements for State identification cards.[1]

The EDDL system does not merely take photographs. Instead, it captures and stores photographic images, and scans all of the other photographic images in the camera system's photo database for duplicates. The EDDL camera system is highly sensitive. It requires a particular pose, and any deviation from that pose, such as a tilt of the head or an exaggerated facial expression, causes the associated computer software to indicate that the image does not comply with the requirements. The EDDL system then integrates the photograph with other driver's license information and imbeds the photograph into the driver's license. This is an integral part of the document's security features which ensures the digitally-reproduced image is resistant to forgery and substitution. See N.J.S.A. 39:3-10h.

Shortly before the January 31, 2006 expiration of her driver's license, complainant wrote to the MVC. She said she suffered from agoraphobia and could not go to the MVC to renew her license, given the closure of the Berlin MVC location a few miles from her home. She requested an exception from the requirement that she appear in person to renew her license.[2]

[439 N.J.Super. 9] The MVC responded that all applicants had to appear in person at a motor vehicle agency to have their digital photograph taken for the new digital driver's licenses, and that this requirement " may not be waived." The letter advised complainant that the MVC had opened a new motor vehicle agency in Turnersville on June 26, 2006, which " may be accessible to you by car." If not, the MVC added, complainant could make arrangements to be driven by a non-profit entity providing transportation for the disabled.

Page 524

Around May 2007, the MVC also offered complainant the option of using their Mobile Unit when it was in her area. However, she did not utilize it before such mobile service ended, allegedly for budgetary reasons, in December 2007.

In August 2012, complainant again wrote the MVC, revealing she had been driving with an expired license almost every day for six years. She added that she had " made huge feats driving going further and not driving will make my progress regress." Complainant asked for a document that would allow her to drive and would serve as a government-issued photo ID. She complained that without an ID, she was unable to write checks, do banking, obtain a passport, or add her name to the deed of her home. Complainant asserted that the MVC's requirement that she appear at a MVC facility to have her photograph taken for license renewal was discriminatory. She again asked for waiver of the requirement, and offered to supply a recent photo of herself.[3]

[439 N.J.Super. 10] Complainant provided the MVC with an August 1, 2012 letter, addressed " To Whom It May Concern," from a doctor of osteopathic medicine. The doctor's letter stated in full:

Robin Wojtkowiak is a 46 year old woman who is well known to our practice, having been our patient since 1998.
Robin has a longstanding history of agoraphobia and gets uncomfortable and anxious when out of her comfort zone. However, she is slowly progressing with exposure and desensitization techniques, and I am very hopeful for the future.
I understand there is a question of her ability to drive. There is nothing medically to contraindicate her driving, and she tells me that she is totally able to drive comfortably within her safety zone of five miles from her home. She tells ...

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