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New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination: Damages in Consideration of Unemployment Benefits

imagesNew Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (the “LAD”) makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, age, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation and several other specifically protected groups.  While this covers an array of relationship scenarios, it is often applied in the context of an employment relationship.

Any person who has been subjected to unlawful discrimination in employment may file a lawsuit under the LAD. The LAD specifically provides for remedies to include all those that are available in typical tort actions.  A tort action is generally a civil action in which one person or entity sues another for some wrongful conduct which the actor committed in breach of some actual or implied duty to the other person or entity (other than by way of a breach of contract).  These damages may involve a number of categories such as back (past lost) pay, front (future) pay, emotional distress, lost benefits, etc.  The act also provides for punitive damages – meaning damages in addition to actual losses which are imposed to punish the wrongdoer for egregious and/or intentional acts, and deter future wrongful acts.

In virtually every employment discrimination case, the plaintiff is required to mitigate her losses.  This means that an employee who has, for example, been fired because of a discriminatory purpose or motivation, must make reasonable efforts to find another job to reduce her damages.

In many instances, an employee who has been terminated from his job because of a discriminatory purpose may also be able to collect unemployment benefits from the State of New Jersey.  Some New Jersey cases have held that while an employee who has been wrongfully terminated is required to mitigate damages – she is not required to file for unemployment compensation as a part of those mitigation efforts.  This is because an employee who received unemployment benefits and subsequently is awarded back pay in a wrongful termination action is required to reimburse the New Jersey Department of Labor for those unemployment benefits received.

However, that holding has recently been put into question by the case of Acevedo v. Flightsafety  International (decided on March 6, 2017).   In that case the court appeared to suggest that the plaintiff who was a victim of discrimination by the defendant could receive a windfall in the form of payment of back pay from the defendant without reduction of unemployment benefits.  Indeed that court noted that it would be better for the plaintiff to receive a double recovery than to allow a reduction in damages paid by the defendant wrongdoing.  While that case did not hold that a plaintiff is relieved from the requirement to  reimburse the State for unemployment benefits, it certainly opened the door for such an argument to be made in the future.

McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC’s attorneys are experienced with employment and discrimination matters in the sphere of employment and other relationships.  To learn more about what we may be able to do to help, please visit our website,  or contact one of our New Jersey lawyers by e-mail or telephone at (973) 890-0004.