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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

New Jersey Agoraphobe Loses Licensing Protest

(CN) - A woman who suffers from severe anxiety was not a victim of discrimination when the New Jersey license bureau required her to appear to have her photo taken, a state appeals court ruled.

Robin Wojtkowiak wrote to the Motor Vehicle Commission before her license expired in 2006. She claimed to suffer from agoraphobia, the fear of being in crowds or public places.

She stated that her local MVC branch had closed, and she asked that she not be required to travel outside of her 5-mile "safety zone" to renew her license.

The MVC declined, but it offered her transportation for the disabled. It cited the immobility of its Enhanced Digital Drivers' License system, which requires drivers to pose in a certain way so the system can compare the photo to those in its database in search of duplicates. The digital photo is then embedded into the license in order to prevent forgery.

Wojtkowiak wrote to the MVC again in 2012, asking again for the waiver and stating that she had been driving with an expired license for six years. She also produced a letter from her doctor explaining that Wojtkowiak has no trouble driving but "gets uncomfortable and anxious when out of her comfort zone."

MVC again declined, but offered to schedule her into an office as the first appointment of the day and to expedite her visit.

Wojtkowiak filed a discrimination lawsuit against the MVC with the Division on Civil Rights. The division ruled in the MVC's favor, citing its efforts to accommodate Wojtkowiak.

On appeal, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division came to the same conclusion on Jan. 2 in a decision written by Judge George S. Leone.

He stated that while agoraphobia is a disability, Wojtkowiak did not present specific evidence of how it affects her.

"The doctor's failure to explain what definition he was applying to complainant compromises her ability to show the unreasonableness of the MVC's accommodations, such as allowing her to appear outside normal business hours, when crowds are absent," Leone wrote.

He added that the doctor did not explain why Wojtkowiak could travel within five miles but not further, and why she could not be transported by another driver.

Leone's opinion stated that Wojtkowiak was free to continue to seek accommodation by the MVC, as long as her request is accompanied by "materially different expert medical evidence."

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