Articles Tagged with “Law Against Discrimination”

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On March 28, 2018, the New Jersey Appellate Division granted an appeal and reversed a trial court employment law decision which had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer the New Jersey Department of Human Services and against the plaintiff employee, dismissing all of his claims. In the case of Jerry Dean Rivera v. State of New Jersey Department of Human Services. The case was argued by Maurice W. McLaughlin, Esq. and Maurice W. McLaughlin, Esq. and Robert Chewning, Esq. wrote the briefs.

The case involved an employee who filed a complaint against his employer for discriminating against him based on his “disabilities,” national origin, and race; retaliating against him for his reports of unfair and discriminatory labor practices; and creating a hostile work environment in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), and the common law under Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp.

As with most discrimination cases, one of the major issues was determining whether the employee was performing the essential functions of his job. This issue required determining whether regular attendance was an essential function of the employee’s job, and, if so, what level was regained and whether the employer was required to accommodate the employee’s absences. The Appellate Division concluded that the employee should be given the opportunity to establish that he was able to perform all of his essential functions with a reasonable accommodation. Because no discovery was produced by the employer relating to whether it could have accommodated the employee’s absences either through a leave of absence or modified work schedule – combined with the fact that the employer’s overall size and other available positions – the employee was denied a fair day in court.

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help-164755__340-300x199The New Jersey Appellate Division recently issued a decision which found an arbitration agreement unenforceable against a plaintiff who was alleging age discrimination under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 (“LAD”). Our attorneys represent both employers and employees in employment law, and the determination of whether an arbitration agreement is enforceable is one of the first issues that must be decided in any case where there is a signed arbitration agreement.

The decision was in the case of Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc.  In that case, the employer, Marilyn Flanzman, was an eighty-two year old former weight loss counselor who worked for Jenny Craig, Inc. for twenty-six years.  Who filed suit for alleged age discrimination and harassment.  The trial court below compelled the case to proceed to arbitration.  Marilyn filed an appeal based on the trial court’s order to compel arbitration.  On appeal, the Appellate Division was asked to determine whether the arbitration agreement between the parties was invalidated because the parties failed to identify any arbitration forum or process for conducting the arbitration.

The Appellate Division ultimately ruled that the parties lacked a “meeting of the minds” and therefore held that the arbitration agreement was invalid, reversing the trial court’s decision below.  The Court came to its decision because neither party could identify the rights that plaintiff was given under the arbitration agreement in exchange for plaintiff waiving her right to a jury trial.  In its opinion, the Appellate Division found “selecting an arbitral institution informs the parties, at a minimum, about the institution’s general arbitration rules and procedures.  Without knowing this basic information, parties to an arbitration agreement will be unfamiliar with the rights that replaced judicial adjudication.  That is the parties will not reach a ‘meeting of the minds.’”

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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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New Jersey protects employees from discrimination and harassment in employment when the discrimination or harassment is based upon a protected type or classification of person. For instance the following classes are protected by New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination: age, race, creed/religion, color, national origin (your family’s country of birth), nationality (your country of birth or where you are a citizen), and service in the United States armed forces.

The Law Against Discrimination also protects people from discrimination based upon their gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status (though typically only with respect to housing discrimination), civil union status, domestic partnership status, gender identity or expression. Further, it also protects classifications based upon mental or physical handicaps or disability, perceived disability, AIDS/HIV status, genetic information, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, refusal to submit to a genetic test or make available the results of a genetic test to an employer, and any other characteristic protected under applicable federal, state or local laws or regulations.

The Law Against Discrimination not only covers employment practices, but also prohibits unlawful discrimination in housing, credit and business contracts, and places of public accommodation.
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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.
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New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (the “LAD”) protects many people, particularly employees, from discrimination because of their race, ethnicity or religion, among other things. Discrimination can take many forms, but includes direct tangible adverse employment actions, such as firing, demotion, etc., and harassment which cause a hostile work environment. In order to constitute discrimination, harassment must be either “severe or pervasive,” and severe or pervasive enough to create a “hostile work environment.”

The Law on Poorly Aimed Discrimination

The law prohibiting discrimination and harassment is well established. However, an issue arose as to whether discrimination or harassment based not on a person’s actual race, ethnicity or religion, but on his incorrectly perceived religion, race or ethnicity is also protected.

The LAD also protects against discrimination or harassment based on disability. As far back as 1982, New Jersey Supreme Court noted in a footnote, Anderson v. Exxon Co., 89 N.J. 483 (1982), that employers could not discriminate based on a perceived disability, even if the employee was not actually disabled. Although that was not the issue in the Supreme Court’s 1982 decision, the Appellate Division shortly thereafter decided another case, affirming the rule that employers could not discriminate based on a perceived, even if an incorrectly perceived, physical disability.

The LAD also prohibits discrimination in housing. In 1987, the Superior Court’s trial division found that a landlord had violated the LAD by refusing to rent an apartment to three gay men (sexual orientation is also protected by the LAD), based on the landlord’s perceived but on the mistaken perception that they would contract AIDS.
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Pregnancy Discrimination
In 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) received the largest number of complaints of pregnancy discrimination in its history. Pregnancy discrimination has been increasing since at least 1992. Pregnancy discrimination in New Jersey, New York and nationally continues to be a major problem.

It is illegal to discriminate against pregnant mothers. Pregnancy discrimination in New York and New Jersey is barred by law. Employers may not refuse to hire pregnant women, fire pregnant women, or lay employees off because of their pregnancy, harass or transfer them because of their pregnancy, or shift them to work that is perceived as “safer” or “lighter.” The only exception is that transfers can be made as a legitimate accommodation for the specific medical needs of a particular employee.

Employers are permitted to ask the estimated delivery date and expected length of leave before and after delivery, but they are not allowed to ask for a specific date that pregnancy leave will begin. Employers must rehire mothers after delivery, and make reasonable accommodations beforehand.

New Jersey Law
New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination bans discrimination based on “sex.” The New Jersey’s Supreme Court has ruled that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on pregnancy.

Federal Law
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 likewise prohibits pregnancy discrimination. In 1978, Congress enacted the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII to include pregnancy discrimination as sex discrimination. It also prohibits discrimination based on medical conditions related to pregnancy. It provides that if an employer offers a health plan, pregnancy must be a covered condition. However, the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, being part of Title VII, only covers employers with 50 or more employees.
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