Demoted Cancer Patient Has Case Against County

     (CN) – A New Jersey county must face claims that it demoted a worker who was suffering from leukemia, and that it forced him to work in a moldy room, a federal judge ruled.
     After working for the Camden County Communications Center for 12 years, James Moore was promoted to administrative captain in 2008, and later to the supervisory position of acting chief, effective January 2009.
     Moore was diagnosed with chronic leukemia later that year. Although Moore requested two weeks off work at the end of November, his supervisor, Edward Fanelle, allegedly ordered him to take two more weeks off “to get his head together” and see the Counseling and Employee Assistance Program Services counselor, May Weldon.
     Camden County said it was late November when Moore approached Fanelle in a visibly emotional state and said he was unable to perform his duties as a result of medical complications.
     Moore denied that this meeting occurred, however, and said he had been out on vacation at the time.
     Two days after Fanelle submitted a request for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act on Dec. 7, Fanelle demoted Moore – dropping his salary from $80,000 to $62,000.
     Moore was reassigned to the main communications room, but he said this site had poor air circulation and a history of mold. Chemotherapy had also allegedly depressed Moore’s autoimmune system.
     Moore went on continuous FMLA leave in February 2012, and his doctor requested in April that he be placed in a work environment away from sick individuals.
     The county denied Moore’s request to work as administrative captain in an office with better air quality in May, stating that budget constraints could not accommodate it.
     Camden instead offered Moore hand sanitizer, facemasks and gloves, and it regularly cleaned the communications room, but Moore found this insufficient and filed suit under the FMLA and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
     U.S. District Judge Renée Bumb denied the county’s motion for summary judgment last week, holding that because Moore’s demotion “negatively affected both plaintiff’s compensation and title, it was an adverse employment action.”
     Moore presented a prima facie case of FMLA retaliation, according to the ruling.
     “Three facts make pre-text an issue for a jury: (1) the close temporal proximity between plaintiff’s request for leave and his demotion; (2) Fanelle’s own opinion of plaintiff’s abilities, as expressed in the [Employee Assistance Program] EAP intake form, in which Fanelle noted that plaintiff was able to ‘perform his duties’ as acting chief; and (3) most importantly, plaintiff’s denial that he ever expressed an inability to perform his essential job functions,” Bumb wrote.
     Camden County cannot support its claim that Moore was unable to carry out the responsibilities of an administrative captain, according to the ruling.
     “The letter from plaintiff’s doctor stressed the importance of limiting exposure to sick contacts, but did not mandate complete isolation,” Bumb wrote. “And plaintiff’s request to be moved to an administrative captain position, where he would have his own office, would decrease his physical contact significantly compared to an operations captain position (located in the communications room).” (Parentheses in original.)
     “Defendant argues that there was not a vacant funded position to which plaintiff could be transferred,” Bumb added. “However, plaintiff has adduced evidence that a position was available because Captain Bishop, an administrative captain, wished to be switched to operations. Accordingly, defendant’s motion for summary judgment on this claim is denied.”

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