An administrative law judge has ruled in favor of a city employee terminated after he became blind.
City planner George Meadows should be reinstated, wrote administrative law judge Susana E. Guerrero in an initial decision issued on August 12.
Meadows was put on administrative leave in 2018 and terminated in 2021 because his blindness allegedly rendered him unable to perform his job duties.
Meadows claims he could perform his job duties, but requires clerical assistance in typing and reading.
City officials rejected his request for accommodations.
“When there is a disability and a request for an accommodation is made, the employing agency is then required to initiate an informal interactive process with the employee to ‘identify the potential reasonable accommodations that could be adopted to overcome the employees precise limitation resulting germ the disability,’” wrote the administrative law judge citing another case. “The record herein contains no evidence that such an interactive process was ever initiated. The record simply shows that the City informed Meadows that it could not accommodate him.”
The city failed to demonstrate accommodating Meadows would result in undue hardship for the municipality, wrote the judge.
Meadows was hired in 2012. He began to lose his eyesight in 2018. He was placed on administrative leave in September 24, 2018 that ended on February 22, 2019. He was sent to Saveren Scannapiego, an ophthalmologist, for evaluation. Scannapiego determined Meadows is “unemployable as of present and in the foreseeable future” because of his statutory blindness, according to public records.
A glaucoma specialist treating Meadows determined he could perform his job duties with accommodations for reading, writing, and typing.
Meadows was fired for inability to perform duty on June 10, 2021.
“The City asserts that Meadows is unable to perform his duties, and must be terminated because it is unable to provide him with reasonable accommodations,” read the opinion.
Michael Deutsch, who previously held the job of principal planner, testified that Meadows could not perform essential duties of the job because of his blindness. Job duties includes reviewing detailed plans and conducting site inspections, he testified. Deutsch serves as the director for the planning and zoning division.
Meadows testified he could perform his job functions with accommodations for reading and writing, suggesting he could fully perform his job with the assistance of a secretary. Records in the case suggests Meadows’ request for accommodation was likely misconstrued by the city. City officials thought he required accommodation for “ambulation, commuting to and from work,” assistance with typing, reading, and an assistant to accompany him to monthly meetings. He testified he needed accommodation just for typing and reading.
As principal planner, Meadows participated in the development of the city’s master and redevelopment plans.
Deutsch was the sole witness to testify at the hearing. The city did not present anyone from the personnel department which handled Meadows’ disability accommodation request.
The administrative law judge reversed the city’s decision to terminate Meadows. Her initial decision has to be ratified by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. The city can file an exception seeking the commission to not accept the initial decision and uphold the termination.
Economic development director Michael Powell could not say whether the city intends to file an exception with the commission. The city has 13 days — until August 25 — to file an exception.