Articles Tagged with “age discrimination”

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In 1945, New Jersey’s Legislature enacted the Law Against Discrimination.  It has been repeatedly revised to increase its inclusion and scope.  However, its goal remains the same today as it was in 1945: “nothing less than the eradication of the cancer of discrimination in the workplace.”  The Law Against Discrimination declares that a workplace free from discrimination is a civil right in New Jersey.

The main section of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination dealing with employment bars employers from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against employees in their pay or other terms, conditions or privileges of their employment  because of their “race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, or because of the liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States or the nationality of any individual, or because of the refusal to submit to a genetic test or make available the results of a genetic test to an employer.”

When the Legislature enacted the Law Against Discrimination, it listed its purpose as protecting “inhabitants” of New Jersey.  However, every other section of this long Law prohibits discrimination against “any individual” or “any person.”  In 1945, this discrepancy was not an issue.  However, in today’s cyber-world, a conflict inevitably arose between the term “inhabitants,” and “any individual” or “any person”  in the context of telecommuting.  The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court recently issued an unpublished opinion helping to clarify this issue.

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Thumbnail image for discrimination.jpgFederal employment law, in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the “ADEA”),prohibits employers from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating in compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of a person’s age. Case law has evolved over time regarding the extent to which age needs to influence employer decisions for the employer to violate the ADEA. A 2009 Supreme Court decision made a distinction between the ADEA’s prohibition against age discrimination and federal law prohibiting so-called status-based discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Title VII finds an employer culpable for employment practices for which race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is “a motivating factor,” even if other factors also motivated the practice.

When an employee claiming age discrimination tried to use the “motivating factor” standard for the court’s decision, the Supreme Court disagreed that the standard was appropriate for age discrimination, instead turning to the language in the age discrimination law specifically, which states, “It shall be unlawful for an employer . . . to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.” The Supreme Court found that the “because of” language brought the issue back to a term familiar in the legal realm, “but-for” causation — the idea that “but for” discrimination against the person’s age, the employer’s action would not have occurred. As applied in that way, the standard requires an employee to show that employer’s action (such as hiring and firing decisions) would not have occurred in the absence of age discrimination. That standard is harder to prove than proving that age discrimination was one of possibly other motivating factors.

Although the case itself and case law that followed emphasized that the decision reflected a distinction between the age discrimination law and discrimination for other reasons (such as race and religion), the reasoning behind the case has begun to seep into case law about other forms of discrimination. A 2013 case held that similar to the 2009 decision on age discrimination, a civil rights claim of unlawful employer retaliation for status-based discrimination requires proof that the desire to retaliate was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action (Univ. of Tex. Southwestern Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 978 (2013)).
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The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that a fired employee can sue his employer for the harm he suffered from “cat’s paw discrimination” because of his membership in the Army Reserve. Federal and state courts have ruled that “cat’s paw” liability applies in a wide variety of other New Jersey discrimination.

The Cat’s Paw.

In Aesop’s Fables, a monkey convinces a cat to pull chestnuts from a fire. The monkey then eats them, leaving the cat with burnt paws and no chestnuts. A “cat’s paw” case happens when a decisionmaker has no intent to discriminate herself, but fires or penalizes in reliance on another employee’s input which was motivated by discrimination. It is sometimes been called “subordinate bias” because it holds the employer responsible for the discrimination or retaliation of someone below the decisionmaker.

The Supreme Court and Cat’s Paw Discrimination Against Members of the Armed Forces.

The United States Supreme Court recently allowed a hospital employee who was fired because of his Army Reserve service to sue for “cats paw” discrimination.
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