No Obligation To Offer Light-Duty Job To Pregnant Officer

No Obligation To Offer Light-Duty Job To Pregnant Officer

Geralyn Larsen is a patrol officer for the Township of Branchburg, New Jersey. In June 2001, the Department eliminated its light-duty work policy. On December 9, 2002, Larsen learned from her fertility specialist that she was pregnant. The doctor gave her a note confirming her pregnancy and restricting her to light duty.

Citing its policy of not having light-duty jobs, the Department declined to make available a light-duty job to Larsen. The Township did offer Larsen a part-time job, but she declined it because the salary was less than a police officer’s salary.

The Township then offered Larsen a full-time position in the tax assessor’s office. Rejecting the offer, Larsen brought a lawsuit alleging that she had a disability protected under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), and that the Department’s failure to offer her a light-duty job violated the LAD.

A court rejected Larsen’s arguments. The Court began with the proposition that Larsen was not in fact disabled. The Court observed that “a normal pregnancy, absent complications, is not a physical disability or infirmity caused by a bodily injury, birth defect, or illness. Thus, a normal pregnancy is neither an illness nor an injury, and Larsen has failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination.”

Larsen also argued that even if she had not suffered from a disability as defined in the LAD, the Township perceived her as suffering from a qualifying disability. The Court acknowledged that “it is not disputed that those perceived as suffering from a particular disability are as much within the protected class as those who are actually disabled.” However, the Court refused to accept the rest of Larsen’s argument. The Court held that “such claims are premised on the defendant perceiving the plaintiff as having a physical or mental condition that would qualify the person as disabled under the LAD if the condition actually existed. Here, the Township perceived Larsen as undergoing a normal pregnancy which, as previously stated, does not qualify as a disability under the LAD. Accordingly, we are satisfied that the trial court properly dismissed Larsen’s perceived disability claim.”

Larsen v. Town of Branchburg, New Jersey, 2007 WL 135706 (N.J. Super. 2007).

This article appears in the March 2007 issue