“Obesity Alone” Is Not a Disability under the New Jersey Law against Discrimination

Rosemary McKenna

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel for the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed a 2018 trial court decision granting summary judgment against a self-described obese former bus driver for defendant Community Bus Lines, Inc. (“Community”), and dismissing the driver’s claim for violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJ LAD”). In doing so, the appellate court held that “obesity alone is not protected under the NJ LAD as a disability unless it has an underlying medical cause.” Because plaintiff, in part, failed to present any direct or circumstantial evidence that defendants perceived the driver as disabled due to a medical condition that caused him to be overweight, the appellate court found his claim was without merit.

Case Background

The plaintiff in this matter worked as a bus driver for Community for 10 years during which time he weighed between 500 and 600 pounds. To maintain his status as an active bus driver, he was required to undergo a medical examination every two years and obtain medical certification verifying his fitness to drive. In 2015, a doctor certified by the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”) conducted plaintiff’s examination and temporarily disqualified him from driving a bus pending further testing. The plaintiff never followed through to complete the required additional testing and was therefore placed “out of service.” Despite his failure to schedule the follow-up testing, plaintiff’s supervisor referred him for a second opinion to another doctor, who confirmed the prior conclusions and found that further testing was needed before a medical certification could be issued. Neither doctor who examined plaintiff determined that he was disabled but only that further testing was required before he could be certified. Plaintiff again did not pursue the required testing and remained on leave. Continue reading ““Obesity Alone” Is Not a Disability under the New Jersey Law against Discrimination”

Generic Representations of Regulatory Compliance Not Actionable under Federal Securities Laws

Adrienne C. Rogove

In a case alleging violations of federal securities laws by Cigna Corporation and certain of its officers, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the complaint on the basis that the statements made by the defendants were simple, generic assertions about its regulatory policies and procedures upon which no reasonable investor would reasonably rely, and were therefore not materially misleading. Singh v. Cigna Corp., No. 17-3484-cv, (2d Cir. Mar. 5, 2019). Following Cigna’s acquisition of HealthSpring, a regional Medicare insurer, Cigna issued several public statements, including 10-K filings, concerning its commitment to regulatory compliance given the significant regulatory responsibilities involved in Medicare coverage. In its 2013 Form 10-K filed on February 27, 2014, Cigna said it had “established policies and procedures to comply with applicable requirements,” and that it “expect[ed] to continue to allocate significant resources” to compliance efforts. Id. at *5. In December 2014, Cigna published a pamphlet titled “Code of Ethics and Principles of Conduct,” which affirmed the importance of compliance and integrity:

[I]t’s important for every employee. . .to handle, maintain, and report on [Cigna’s financial] information in compliance with all laws and regulations. . .

[W]e have a responsibility to act with integrity in all we do, including any and all dealings with government officials.

Id. at **4-5. In its 2014 Form 10-K, Cigna stated that it would “continue to allocate significant resources” to compliance. Id. at *6. The 10-K included a discussion of the difficulty of compliance in the regulatory environment given the “uncertainty surrounding legislation and implementation of national healthcare reform.” Id.

A 2015 audit of Cigna’s Medicare operations by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) revealed numerous regulatory violations. Cigna filed a Form 8-K disclosing the CMS audit conclusions and accompanying sanctions. Within several days, Cigna’s stock price fell substantially. Continue reading “Generic Representations of Regulatory Compliance Not Actionable under Federal Securities Laws”

More Money, More Problems? New Jersey Significantly Expanding Family Leave Benefits

Thomas J. Szymanski

The bill (NJ A3975), revamping the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) and Family Leave Insurance (“FLI”), was passed in both houses of the New Jersey Legislature on January 31, 2019. Governor Murphy is expected to sign the bill today, with some changes effective immediately.

As a reminder, NJFLA provides job-protected leave for workers at large employers to care for family members. On the other hand, FLI provides wage-replacement benefits to workers during a leave used to care for a family member. FLI applies regardless of the size of the employer and is funded by employee payroll deductions.

Summary of the most significant changes: Continue reading “More Money, More Problems? New Jersey Significantly Expanding Family Leave Benefits”

ALERT: New Jersey Raising Minimum Wage to $15

Thomas J. Szymanski

As we reported last week in Blank Rome Workplace, New Jersey employers need to get ready for minimum wage increasing to $15 per hour. The bill, which passed on party lines last Thursday, was signed into law today by Governor Murphy. It provides the following timetable to raise the minimum wage:

  • $15 per hour by 2024, for most minimum wage earners;
  • $15 per hour by 2026, for minimum wage earners at seasonal businesses and small businesses;
  • $12.50 per hour by 2024, for agricultural minimum wage earners; and
  • $5.13 per hour by 2022, for tipped earners.

Continue reading “ALERT: New Jersey Raising Minimum Wage to $15”

New Jersey Supreme Court Weighs in on Arbitration Clauses in Consumer Contracts

Michael R. Darbee

On January 10, 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided a case involving the enforceability of mandatory arbitration agreements in consumer contracts. In Kernahan v. Home Warranty Administrator of Florida, the Court held that a mandatory arbitration agreement in a home warranty contract was unenforceable because it lacked mutual assent.

The consumer sued her home warranty administrator and the home warranty administrator moved to dismiss, citing the mandatory arbitration provision in the parties’ contract. The trial court denied that motion and held the arbitration provision was unenforceable. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division and held that the agreement was too contradictory and confusing to create mutual assent. Continue reading “New Jersey Supreme Court Weighs in on Arbitration Clauses in Consumer Contracts”

Happy Holidays from Blank Rome’s Princeton Office

As the year comes to a close, we want to wish our readers a joyful holiday season and a prosperous new year. We’d also like to take a moment to look back on the banner year our office has had and thank you for being a part of its success.

Our Princeton office rang in 2018 with a transition into its new offices located at 300 Carnegie Center, and has continued to establish itself throughout the year as a litigation leader in the Garden State, receiving the following industry recognitions in honor of our accomplishments:

We are very proud of these successes, and look forward to continuing our dedication to unparalleled legal service for our clients in 2019 and the years to come.

Please enjoy this year’s holiday card, created through the Firm’s collaboration with students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

ALERT: New Jersey Raising Minimum Wage!

Thomas J. Szymanski

New Jersey’s minimum wage will increase by 25 cents, from $8.60 to $8.85 per hour, effective January 1, 2019. For non-exempt employees making the minimum wage, employers will be required to pay an overtime rate of $13.28 for every hour worked over 40 in a work week, to comply with the State’s minimum wage requirements.

Employers should be aware that one of Governor Phil Murphy’s top legislative priorities is to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Although the Legislature passed a $15-an-hour minimum wage bill in 2016, which was vetoed by then-Governor Chris Christie, neither Governor Murphy nor the Legislature has communicated a path forward to get another bill on the table.

As wage payment violations carry significant penalties in New Jersey, you should contact a member of Blank Rome’s labor & employment practice group if you have any questions about compliance with New Jersey’s minimum wage increase or any other wage and hour issues.