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New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination: Discrimination Not Always Required

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New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) protects employees from wrongful termination or other acts based on their race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, or other protected characteristic. The LAD is a remedial statute, meaning that the legislature enacted the law not only as a preventative measure, but as a direct response to the rampant discrimination in employment that was being observed. As a result, New Jersey’s courts read the LAD law broadly, providing for expansive protection to employees.

Not only does the LAD protect employees from being fired because of their race, gender, or other protected classification, it also protects employees from being fired, demoted, or mistreated in retaliation of that employee’s objections to discriminatory practices that she has observed against other employees. Therefore if one employee observes another employee being discriminated against and the observing employee complains, protests against, or objects to the discriminatory action, she cannot be fired in retaliation for objecting. The observing employee also cannot be retaliated against for aiding or encouraging any other person from objecting to discriminatory acts by the employer.

Therefore an employee may have a valid retaliation claim under the LAD if she was fired, demoted, or otherwise mistreated in retaliation for that employee’s objections to discriminatory acts by the employer. There needs to sufficient evidence to show that the employee’s objections played a role in the decision to fire her (or take other negative action). It is the employee’s burden to prove these elements.

The requirement that the employee made an objection or took part in some other protected act (such as filing a grievance, disclosing a discriminatory act to supervisory personnel, or encouraging others to submit an objection), does not require the employee to prove that the bases for her objection was correct. In other words, the employee need only be acting in good faith and under the reasonable belief that someone was being wrongfully discriminated against on the basis of a protected classification (i.e. race, gender, age, etc.).

In fact, the New Jersey Supreme Court has recently explained in the case of Battaglia v. UPS, Inc. on July 17, 2013, that there does not need to be any instance in which any person has a valid claim that he was discriminated against or subjected to a hostile work environment in order to maintain a valid action under the anti-retaliation provisions of the LAD.

For instance, if an employee, Joe, was in a meeting with his boss, John, who made discriminatory and derogatory comments about women in the workplace, it is not necessary that any woman were present. It is not necessary that any woman heard the comments or felt like she was being subjected to a hostile work environment. If Joe voices an objection to these comments or complains about them to human resources or another superior, he cannot be retaliated against for his objections. As long as Joe is acting with the reasonable, good faith belief that John’s comments were discriminatory, he cannot be retaliated against for his objections.

This is because, as the Court explained, “the LAD was enacted to protect not only the civil rights of individual aggrieved employees but also to protect the public’s strong interest in a discrimination-free workplace.”

McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC’s attorneys are experienced in representing both New Jersey employees and employers in retaliation and discrimination claims, and in all aspects of the employment relationship, from hiring to firing, litigation and arbitration. To learn more about what we can do to help, please visit our website or contact one of our lawyers at (973) 890-0004.