Can an employee suffer too many job-related injuries?
Maryanne Grande, a practicing registered nurse since 1985, worked at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville, NJ for ten years. Grande was assigned to a unit where half of the patients were stroke victims that required assistance with washing, bathing, dressing, walking and other daily activities.
During Grande’s tenure, she suffered what would be multiple work-related injuries that resulted in her taking approximately one year of leave time.
The first injury occurred in 2007 when Grande injured her shoulder while repositioning a patient in bed. The damage required surgery and subsequent physical therapy. About a year later, the same shoulder was re-injured while moving the legs of a 300-pound patient.
In late 2009, Grande was helping an overweight patient move from a stretcher to a bed. When the patient began to fall, she caught and pulled the patient onto the bed and on top of herself. A subsequent MRI revealed a cervical spine injury to Grande.
Four months after suffering her most serious injury while on the job and employed at Saint Clare’s, Grande was fired.
Grande sued her employer in 2011 with accusations of violating the state’s Law Against Discrimination. In a summary judgment, a Superior Court judge sided with Saint Clare’s, ruling that Grande failed to show that she was performing – or able to perform – her job’s duties within the hospital’s standards of safety.
An appellate court would reverse that decision in August of 2015.
Saint Clare’s appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. In a unanimous 7-0 decision, the justices affirmed the appellate court’s ruling.
The court’s decision clarified the necessity of safe work environments. However, terminating a disabled employee due to an inability to follow safety standards requires proof that the standards relate to the employee’s actual duties. Employers must also verify that no reasonable accommodations exist that would allow a staff member to remain employed.
The ruling allows the case to go to trial.