TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck announced today that Hoboken-based Academy Lines LLC must pay a former company bus driver $40,000 and arrange anti-discrimination training for its key employees after a complaint filed with the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) resulted in a settlement.
The settlement resolves allegations that Academy Lines, which advertises itself as the nation’s largest private transportation company, wrongly fired the worker after he took leave time allowed under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA) to care for his dying father.
“New Jersey law protects workers’ ability to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored just how important those protections are. We are committed to ensuring that workers don’t lose their jobs in violation of the law just because a family member gets sick.”
“This case illustrates the importance of the protections offered by the FLA when an employee is required to provide a medical certification,” added Rosemary DiSavino, Deputy Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “The law allows for the uncertainties that can arise when a family member suffers from a serious medical condition, and prohibits an employer from denying leave in emergent circumstances or using the certification requirements to harass, intimidate or otherwise discourage an employee from requesting leave.”
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According to DCR’s investigation, Academy Lines fired the complainant in December 2017 after he began a four-week “intermittent leave” period to care for his ailing father in North Carolina.
Intermittent leave is defined in the FLA as leave “taken in separate periods of time,” where each leave period spans at least one work week. The FLA allows employees to take intermittent leave in certain circumstances. In some situations, the employer may require advance notice and a certification from a health care provider to support a leave request.
The December 2017 intermittent leave period was the fourth such leave period the driver had taken to care for his father, who was diagnosed as terminally ill with leukemia.
The driver supported his request for the first two leave periods with a medical certificate provided by his father’s treating physician, but did not comply when Academy requested an updated medical certificate to support his taking the third intermittent leave period.
When the employee subsequently asked for a fourth intermittent leave period – from December 6, 2017 through January 4, 2018 – the company demanded he provide an updated medical certificate before commencing leave.
The employee responded that he was unable to provide an updated medical certificate, because the gravity of his father’s deteriorating condition was still being assessed. The driver told DCR he intended to provide an updated medical certificate once a treatment plan was determined.
After the driver departed for North Carolina to be with his father, he received word that his employment had been terminated for not providing the updated medical certificate, and for failing to provide sufficient advance notice of his leave.
The driver filed a formal complaint with DCR in July 2018.
Following an investigation, the Division issued a Finding of Probable Cause in April 2020. DCR found that the original medical certification provided by the driver in 2017 was “sufficient under the FLA’s enforcing regulations.” DCR also found that the driver’s request for a fourth period of intermittent leave to care for his father met the “emergent circumstances” provision of the FLA, and was therefore not subject to the law’s normal advance-notice requirement.
The Finding of Probable Cause also asserted that Academy “failed to articulate a legitimate reason for why it required Complainant to immediately produce a new (medical) certification or face termination” and held that there was “reasonable suspicion” to suggest Academy’s unyielding stance was intended to “discourage and impede” the driver from taking additional FLA time.
Under terms of a settlement obtained by DCR on behalf of the fired driver, Academy Lines must arrange for all company human resources personnel, as well as all terminal managers working in and/or supervising employees in New Jersey, to receive anti-discrimination training.
Among other things, the required anti-discrimination training must address overall compliance with the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the FLA, and also focus on such specific issues as required medical certifications under the FLA, and the need to ensure that decisions made in response to requests for FLA leave are consistent with the law. The training also must emphasize the obligation of company managers to report any acts of discrimination they may witness.
DCR Legal Specialist Carlos Bellido, Investigator Justin Hoffer and Division of Law Deputy Attorney General Geoffrey Gerstein handled this matter on behalf of the State. DCR Director Rachel Wainer Apter is recused due to her pending nomination to the New Jersey Supreme Court.