MVC told headscarf-wearing NJ woman with cancer to ‘take that thing off,’ lawsuit says
EATONTOWN — A Brick woman undergoing chemotherapy for the treatment of breast cancer is suing the state Motor Vehicle Commission after she said she was humiliated trying to update her driver's license while wearing a head wrap.
Jennifer Giordano went to the MVC office on June 14 at the end of a 16 week course of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in February. Having gone through the therapy Giordano said she had lost all of her hair, which is why she wore a head scarf or a "chemo cap" to cover her head.
While applying for a new license because of a change of address, Giordano said she was told several times that she would have to remove the scarf in order to have a new picture taken. One MVC employee, she said, told her "you have to take that thing off."
Giordano said she tried explaining to the employee why she was wearing the scarf, and eventually was brought to tears by the experience. She said the encounter took five to 10 minutes and that anywhere between 40 and 50 people at the location witnessed it.
Eventually she said a second employee at the location intervened and informed her that she could file for a change of address online without needing a new picture. Another customer at the MVC said he heard the original employee talking to another employee saying, "Can you believe that bitch? Does she think she is the only person who ever had cancer?" according to the lawsuit.
After completing the process to file for a change of address, Giordano said a manager gave her a new license, but did not make eye contact with her during the exchange. She said the man told her that people with religious or medical needs do not in fact have to remove head coverings.
Giordano said after being told that she pointed to the employee in question and said, "Well, clearly she doesn't know that."
Having left the MVC, Giordano said she went to her surgeon's office and told people who worked there about her experience. She said she was so upset that after leaving the surgeon she went back to the MVC to try and get the names of the employees involved. At that time a different manager would only give her the first name and last initial of the first employee and the name of the manager involved.
Over the course of the next week, Giordano said she had difficulty eating and sleeping. When she spoke to her surgeon's nurse she was told it could be a result of the traumatic experience and encouraged her to speak to a social worker. While she was unsuccessful finding a social worker, Giordano said she went to an urgent care center where she was given a prescription for Xanax, which she ultimately decided not to take.
As part of the lawsuit, Giordano is asking that the MVC adopt better policies and training in order to prevent discrimination against other people in the future. She is also seeking compensation for "emotional distress, humiliation, and anguish" she suffered as a result of the incident as well as punitive damages and costs and attorneys' fees.
The lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in Monmouth County.
The case was first reported on by the New Jersey Law Journal.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com