Articles Tagged with New Jersey Discrimination Attorneys

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strategy-1710763__340-300x160One of the most difficult issues for New Jersey employment attorneys is when federal law preempts New Jersey employment law.  One of the most thorny areas is the intersection of the Federal Labor Management Relations Act, which governs the interpretation and application of collective bargaining agreements (union contracts) in the private sector.  Fortunately, New Jersey’s Appellate Division has recently issued an important opinion clarifying this complex area in the context of disability discrimination and retaliation by an employer against an employee for filing a workers compensation claim.

Background

Brian Hejda was a truck driver for Bell Container Corp., and a member of Teamsters Local Union 813.  He suffered a workplace knee injury.  He had various restrictions on what he could do at work, and he was medically limited to light duty.  He filed a workers compensation claim; Bell denied that he sustained a disabling injury.  Eventually Hejda was asymptomatic and able to return to full duty, although his doctors advised that he would eventually need arthroscopic surgery to repair the damage.  Hejda reported to work for a week but was not given much to do.  When he returned the following week, he was told to leave.

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rubics-cube-2108030__340-300x200President Trump recently issued an “Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” We have been asked what this will mean for New Jersey employers or employees. For private sector, and New Jersey state and local public sector employers and employees, the answer is probably not much, if anything. Let’s break it down by some of declarative provisions.

Section 1. Policy. It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom. ….Umm, well, that’s been the policy of the government for decades now, so nothing much should change there.

Sec. 2. Respecting Religious and Political Speech. All executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech. In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective, where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office by the Department of the Treasury. As used in this section, the term “adverse action” means the imposition of any tax or tax penalty; the delay or denial of tax-exempt status; the disallowance of tax deductions for contributions made to entities exempted from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code; or any other action that makes unavailable or denies any tax deduction, exemption, credit, or benefit. First, again, protecting free speech and free exercise of religion are already the federal government’s policy. Discrimination by employers against employees is already prohibited by federal law, and both federal and New Jersey employment law require employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” so employees can exercise their religion, so no change there. And if you’re in the private sector – too bad; the First Amendment only protects you from the government, not your private sector employer. Further, those protections already exist in the public sector.

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wheelchair-1365410__340-300x300Our employment lawyers represent employers and employees in New Jersey labor and employment litigation.  Each employment case has two parts.  The first is liability – did the employer commit the wrongful act of which it is accused by the employee?  If the answer is no, the case is over; if the answer is yes, then the employee must prove damages.  One question which has bedeviled courts is whether unemployment compensation received by an employee should reduce the damages she can receive for lost pay resulting from an allegedly discriminatory firing.  The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey has now answered this question with a resounding “no.”

New Jersey provides a wide range of employment protections to employees.  These laws provide for a range of remedies if employees are the victim of unlawful conduct by their employer.  Some laws provide for recovery of damages for emotional distress.  Sometimes, in especially egregious cases, punitive damages may be available.  If the particular statutes provide for it, such as New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (known as the “LAD”) and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (known as “CEPA”), if the employee is successful at trial the court may even order the employer to pay the employee’s attorneys fees.

The basic element of damages in employment cases, however, is lost pay.  All other elements of damages flow from lost pay.  If an employee is unemployed for a year, the pay she would have made during that time is recoverable as damages if she wins her suit.  If after a year she then gets a job earning $10,000 per year less, the difference is recoverable as well.  If after a year she gets a job making the same or more money, her damages end when she gets the new job.

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pencil-1385100__340-300x200Here at the New Jersey Lawyers Blog we usually stick to New Jersey law (the name is probably a giveaway).  However, a federal decision this week in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (with jurisdiction over appeals from the federal courts in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) deserves mention.  In the case of Hively vs. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, the Seventh Circuit held that firing an employee because of her sexual orientation is illegal sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It became the first Federal appeals court to so hold.  It broke with many of its sister circuits.  The United States Supreme Court has never decided the issue.

Kimberly Hively was a part-time adjunct professor at Ivy Tech.  She applied for at least six full time teaching positions but was rejected each time.  Finally, her part-time contract was not renewed.  Hively was only lesbian.  She filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII because she claimed that had been terminated because of her orientation.  The EEOC issued a right to sue letter, and she filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana pro se (on her own without a lawyer).  The District Court dismissed her suit, ruling that discrimination because of sexual orientation was not protected by Title VII.  She appealed to the Seventh Circuit.  Initially a three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit agreed with the District Court and ruled against her.  However, the entire court then voted to hear her appeal en banc (by the whole court), and reversed its prior decision.

The Seventh Circuit had several reasons for its holding.  First, in 1989 the Supreme Court held that the practice of gender stereotyping was illegal sex discrimination.  Then in 1998 it held that it made no difference whether or not the harasser was of the same or a different gender as the victim provided that the harassment was because of the victim’s gender.  It then reasoned that if the stereotype is that a woman should marry a man Hively would not have been fired if she had married a person of the other sex, then she was discriminated against because of her gender because she married a woman, a person of the same sex.