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1 Star-Ledger Plaza in Newark, the former home of the Star-Ledger. The building was sold in 2014. Photo courtesy of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Newspaper pulls job offer after learning woman had epilepsy, lawsuit alleges

NJ Advance Media accused of violating state discrimination law

By David Wildstein, January 30 2020 6:00 am

NJ Advance Media, which operates the Star-Ledger and three other New Jersey daily newspapers, is being sued by a woman who claims they revoked her job offer after finding out she had epilepsy.

Alexandria DiRenzo alleges that she was hired for a sales position with the newspaper last July, but that the offer was revoked eleven days later after she disclosed her disability.

According to a lawsuit filed last month, NJ Advance Media/Advance Local human resources manager Robin Vitale Barrett contacted DiRenzo to ask about a two-month suspension of her driver’s license earlier in the year.

DiRenzo said he told Vitale Barrett that “she suffered a seizure and her doctor informed her she cannot drive until she was medically cleared.”

“The incident involving her license suspension was a result of mismedication,” the lawsuit claims.

The 25-year-old Rowan University graduate says she was interviewed over the telephone with Rhonda Barlow, the NJ Advance Media sales manager, and Kurt Vanotsky, the vice president of local sales.  She was offered the position at that time and she accepted.

“Many thanks for accepting my verbal offer today,” Barlow said in an e-mail confirmation, the lawsuit alleges. “[y]our start date is July 22, 2019. This offer is based on you passing a lab test.”

DiRenzo says she passed the drug test and gave her current employer notice that she was leaving to take a new job.

Vitale Barrett called DiRenzo on or around July 18 to ask about her driver’s license suspension.

The lawsuit alleges that Vitale Barrett” asked invasive questions about .. (DiRenzo’s) diagnosis and entire history.”

According to DiRenzo, she received a call from Vitale Barrett and Vanotsky to question her more about her driving record.

“I’m sorry, but we have to revoke,” Vitale Barrett allegedly told her.

DiRenzo claims that in a subsequent call that day, Vitale Barrett told her she was “bad for business” and a “liability to the company.”

The lawsuit alleges a “discriminatory failure to hire based upon disability under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

Responses to job applicants with epilepsy like the one alleged in the lawsuit is nothing new, an expert told the Globe.

“I would describe employment discrimination as it relates to epilepsy as rampant,” said Allison Nichol, the director of legal advocacy and public policy at the Epilepsy Foundation.  “There is a lot of fear and stereotypes about epilepsy.”

Nicholas said it would be helpful if employers were to educate themselves about epilepsy before they act.

“The stigma and discrimination faced by people with epilepsy is much worse than a lot of other disabilities,” Nichol said. “There is a lot of blatant discrimination.”

Lawyers claim NJ Advance Media ‘doesn’t exist’

NJ Advance Media is seeking to transfer the case to federal court, claiming that NJ Advance Media LLC “does not exist as a corporate entity” for the purpose of being sued in New Jersey.

Instead, their filing says, NJ Advance Media is solely owned by Advance Local Holdings, whose principal place of business is New York.

State records show that NJ Advance Media was filed as a corporate entity in New Jersey in 2014.

In the past, NJ Advance Media — not Advance Local Holdings — has been the plaintiff in litigation seeking payment of unpaid bills from advertisers.   NJ Advance Media sued the Middlesex County Prosecutor in 2015 in a bid to obtain a 911 call.

Vitale Barrett did not immediately return a 2:08 PM call on Wednesday seeking comment.  Barlow, reached by telephone, declined comment.

Martin Aron, an attorney representing NJ Advance Media, also declined comment.

“I’m not permitted to discuss the case,” Aron said.  “So, no comment.”

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2 thoughts on “Newspaper pulls job offer after learning woman had epilepsy, lawsuit alleges

  1. This has GOT to stop! I lost my job 7 years ago, that was more than just a job, it was my calling! I was called “a disruption and a liability” on multiple occasions. The EEOC even refused to help me, when I had blatant evidence of retaliation.

  2. Hmm, I think under ADA a minimum penalty for discrimination due to a disability is $20,000. It’s likely to be higher then that though.

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