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By Thomas Paschos & Associates
Haddonfield, New Jersey

In Acevedo v. Flightsafety International Inc., --- A.3d ---, 2017 WL 8752812017 (N.J. A.D. March 6, 2017), plaintiff, Rex Fornaro, a flight instructor, filed a disability discrimination and retaliatory discharge claim against his employer, defendant Flightsafey International, Inc.  At trial, the jury found that Flightsafety fired Fornaro because he is disabled and because he requested reasonable accommodation for his disability. The jury awarded Fornaro back pay of about $83,000, but the trial judge reduced the award by $14,000, which represents one half of the unemployment compensation Fornaro had received since his termination. The trial judge reasoned that because both Fornaro and Flightsafety had contributed to the state unemployment fund, reduction by half was the equitable result.

Fornaro appealed, arguing that the trial court should not have reduced the damages, and Flightsafety cross-appealed, arguing that the damages should be reduced by the entire amount of the unemployment compensation.

The Appellate Division reversed the trial court and reinstated the full jury award to Fornaro. The court held that New Jersey’s collateral source statute (N.J.S.A. 2A:15-97), which requires that damages be reduced in some cases where the plaintiff has already received compensation from another “collateral” source could not be applied to cases under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The reasoning for this exception is that the NJLAD is remedial legislation intended to eradicate discrimination, protect employees, and deter employers from engaging in discriminatory practices.  The Appellate Division provided that “shifting the benefit of unemployment compensation from the wronged employee to the discriminating employer does not serve the LAD’s deterrent purpose.”