A senior probate clerk for the Cumberland County, New Jersey Surrogate’s Office has filed an explosive nine-count lawsuit alleging discrimination based upon disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, as well as other charges. Constance M. Stiles’ lawsuit details numerous indignities and humiliations to which she was subjected, and she is seeking redress from her former employer, the county’s Human Resources Director, and others.
Ms. Stiles’ difficulties began with multiple injuries that she had suffered at some point in the past. A combination of an automobile accident and a fall resulted in her needing cervical fusion surgery in 2012 and a subsequent medical leave taken in April of 2017. That 3-month leave grew to four months, and when she contacted her supervisor, County Surrogate Douglas M. Rainear, on August 17th to let him know she would be returning to work days later, she received a call on the same day from the county’s Human Resources Director, indicating that Rainear was requiring that she take a functional capacity examination prior to her return. That examination was conducted by psychologist Dr. Chester E. Sigafoos,who is also named as a defendant in the suit, and it is among the issues cited within the lawsuit.
According to the filing in the lawsuit, “The invasive and sexual FCE (functional capacity examination) caused Plaintiff great emotional distress as it forced the Plaintiff to revisit childhood and young adult trauma that she had worked so hard to overcome. The invasive FCE also greatly embarrassed and humiliated Plaintiff as she found it to be an unnecessary invasion of her privacy, completely unrelated to the specific health conditions that necessitated her medical leave.” Stiles indicates that taking the exam was a requirement to her return to work, despite the reason for her medical leave being “primarily physical and not psychological.”
Stiles indicates that the psychologist asked about her sex life and her childhood, and asked intrusive questions including “whether she ever had sex with someone she hardly knew” and “whether she thinks her thighs and backsides are much too big.” She also says that she was subjected to harassment in the office prior to her medical leave, when the back braces and special equipment required by her physical condition made her the butt of cruel jokes.
In addition to Rainear and Sigafoos, her suit names the county itself, the Surrogate’s Office, the county’s Human Resources Director Craig Atkinson and Human Relations Clerk Wheeler Fazenbaker, accusing them of discrimination based upon disability and/or perceived disability, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD); a hostile work environment due to disability discrimination; retaliation and unlawful termination under the state anti-discrimination law; deprivation of substantive due process, under the state's Civil Rights Act; and sexual harassment, also under NJLAD. Sigafoos was specifically cited for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, publication of private facts and with defamation.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination or differential treatment based on a number of protected classes, including mental or physical disability in employment and other situations. Stiles is represented by attorneys Alan H. Schorr and Arykah A. Trabosh. They note, with great concern, that it has recently become all too common for public entities to utilize psychological fitness for duty tests to try to rid themselves of employees who complain or are struggling with disabilities. The law firm has vowed to fight against this oppressive and unlawful tactic.