Articles Tagged with “New Jersey Employment Lawyers”

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yes-3029367__340-300x158The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently issued an important decision on the law of sexual harassment in the case of Sheri Miransky versus Susquehanna County and Thomas Yadlosky, Jr.  The Third Circuit hears appeals from the Federal District Courts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the Virgin Islands.  Its decisions are binding on questions of federal law in New Jersey.  The only higher court in the nation is the United States Supreme Court.

The Facts

The facts are long, but generally speaking Sheri Minarsky suffered from years of significant sexual harassment by her supervisor.  She did not complain for several years because she feared retaliation, which the supervisor threatened, and because she saw that upper management knew of his harassment against other employees and did nothing.  Finally after four years she did complain, and her supervisor was fired.

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workplace-615375__340-300x200The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which hears appeals from decisions in the federal courts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, recently issued a major decision interpreting the scope of coverage of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”). As the Third Circuit explained,

[The] shift from medical emergency management to primary care treatment has resulted in a “grave financial challenge” for hospital administrators. Many of them responded to this economic pressure by engaging in a practice known as “patient dumping.” That term refers to the practice of refusing to offer emergency room treatment to indigent patients who lack medical insurance, or transferring them to other medical facilities before their emergency medical condition has been stabilized. Congress attempted to address this situation by enacting EMTALA. EMTALA imposes certain mandates on hospitals regardless of whether a patient who presents to an emergency room has the ability to pay for treatment.

EMTALA requires hospitals to first examine each patient to determine whether an emergency medical condition exists. “[I]f the examination reveals the patient is suffering from an emergency medical condition, the hospital usually must stabilize the patient before getting into the business of trying to [discharge or] transfer him [or her] elsewhere.”[ A hospital that either (1) fails to properly screen a patient, or (2) releases a patient without first stabilizing his or her emergency medical condition thereby violates EMTALA.

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men-1979261__340-300x200New Jersey has joined nine other states and the District of Columbia in enacting a law to require that employers must provide their employees with paid sick leave.  The law is among the toughest in the nation, and imposes many new requirements on employers.  Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about New Jersey’s Paid Sick Leave Law.

What employers must provide paid sick leave?

Virtually all of them.

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chalk-1551566__340-300x225The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court recently addressed a procedural question with significant implications for New Jersey teachers and other teaching staff members fighting tenure charges under the TEACHNJ Act of 2012.

The TEACHNJ Act changed the system for fighting tenure charges.  Previously, a teacher or other teaching staff member would have the right to have their appeals heard before an administrative law judge, who would normally have a trial on the merits of the teacher’s objections and defenses.  The results would then be sent to the New Jersey Department of Education, which could accept or reject the administrative law judge’s findings.  Whatever the outcome, either party could appeal the Department of Education’s decision to the Appellate Division and then to New Jersey’s Supreme Court.  Under the TEACHNJ Act, however, the administrative law process was eliminated, and objections to tenure charges are now heard by a single arbitrator in binding arbitration.  There are only very limited grounds for appeal.

Recently, a teacher had a series of tenure charges filed against him.  He had two separate charges of “inefficiency.”  He then had a later tenure charge of “conduct unbecoming” for allegedly inflicting prohibited corporal punishment on a student.  He objected that the entire controversy doctrine barred the charges because they occurred before the inefficiency charges were decided and therefore they all should have been brought together.

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Wage and hour claims dealing with overtime requirements are among the most contentious in employment law litigation.  The United States Supreme Court recently issued a decision exempting one narrow class of employees (“service advisors” at automobile dealerships) from coverage.  While the specific effect of the ruling is limited, the reasoning behind it may signal a shift in the way the Supreme Court interprets the exemptions from overtime requirements in federal employment law.

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act governs wage and hour issues for most employees in the United States.  Generally speaking, unless an employee is an “exempt employee” she must receive minimum wage for all hours worked, and overtime pay at the rate of one and a half times her normal pay rate (known as “time and a half”) when she works more than forty hours in a week.  Broad categories of employees are exempt, however.  The major categories of exemptions are professional, executive and administrative employees.  Many other smaller or sub-categories of employees are also exempt.

New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law provides similar coverage for New Jersey employees, who receive protection under both state and federal law.  Both laws also prohibit retaliation against employees who file complaints about violations (although there are technical requirements about what constitutes a “complaint”), and both require the employer to pay the employee’s attorneys fees if she prevails in a lawsuit.  The main difference is that the Fair Labor Standards Act provides for double damages if the violation is “willful” – this means that if the employer willfully underpaid the employee by $1000, it must pay her $2000 in damages plus reimbursing her for her attorneys fees.  The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, on the other hand, does not provide for double damages.

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By typography-2858715__340-300x150enacting the Law Against Discrimination, New Jersey has provided its workers with some of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the United States.  New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination protects against employment discrimination, including harassment, because of these protected categories

  • race
  • creed
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partnership-2750197__340-300x200The United States Supreme Court issued a major decision on tolling the statute of limitations on state law claims while the case is in federal court which has significant impact on New Jersey employment litigation.  In the case of Artis v. District of Columbia, the Supreme Court answered a major procedural question regarding the interplay of federal and state claims being heard together in federal district court and state statutes of limitations.  While the case involved an employment case in District of Columbia, it would be equally applicable to cases brought under New Jersey employment law.

Background

Stephanie Artis worked as a health inspector for the city government of the District of Columbia.  She was fired.  Thereafter, she filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She alleged a federal claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (known as “Title VII”).  She also sued under District of Columbia law for whistleblower retaliations, false claims and gender discrimination.

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votive-candles-2903933__340-300x200Both New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and the Federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly prohibit employers from discriminating against employees because of their religious practices if they can be reasonably accommodated.  In many cases the most difficult question is whether an accommodation which the employer could have provided was “reasonable.”  However, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an important decision on the unusual question of whether an employee’s honestly and strongly held beliefs could be considered “religious” under Title VII.

Paul Fallon had been an employee of Mercy Medical Center since 1994.  In 2012, Mercy instituted a rule that all employees had to receive a flu vaccination each year.  Mercy allowed for religious exemptions.  Fallon requested and was granted exemptions in 2012 and 2013.  However, she  was denied in 2014 because Mercy had changed its definition of religious exemption.  There was no question that Fallon’s objection was because of his sincerely held belief that the vaccination did more harm than good.  However, he cited no religious source, just his belief that it is wrong to cause harm to your own body.  Mercy decided that this reason was not “religious” under its policy, and ordered Fallon to get the shot or provide a letter from clergy explaining why he could not get the vaccination for religious reasons.  He failed to provide the letter and refused to be vaccinated.  Mercy therefore fired him.

Fallon filed suit in Federal District Court alleging that Mercy had fired him because of his religious beliefs, and therefore committed religious discrimination in violation of Title VII.  The trial judge disagreed and dismissed his suit.  Fallon appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  The Third Circuit agreed with the trial judge’s opinion and upheld the decision.

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whistle-2496555__340-300x200In the case of DiFiore v. CSL Behring, LLC, a former pharmaceutical employee brought an action in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against her former employer for retaliation in the form of a wrongful, constructive discharge.  In that case, the employee specifically brought claims under the federal False Claims Act (“FCA”)  https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/31/3729 and Pennsylvania’s common law wrongful discharge cause of action. She claimed that she had raised concerns about off-label marketing of products which caused her employer to retaliate.

In that case, the District Court instructed the jury that, in order to prove retaliation under the FCA, the employee had to prove that the whistleblowing by the employee was the sole cause for the adverse action (firing or other retaliatory action).  However, the plaintiff-employee argued that she need only provide that the whistleblower action was a motivating factor for the wrongful discharge – not that it was the only reason for the adverse employment action.  The plaintiff was relying on a prior Third Circuit case, Hutchins v. ABC Corp. However, the Court determined that the “motivating factor” language in the Hutchins case was merely dicta – meaning that the language was extraneous to the decision and does not act as precedential.

The Court also decided that the United States Supreme Court decisions in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v Nassar indicate that a “motivating factor” test is inappropriate.  (The Gross case considered a claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the Nassar case considered a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.)  In both cases, the Supreme Court found that the language “because of” in those laws, equated to the requirement of “but-for” causation.  In other words, the adverse action would not have happened “but for” the improper motivation, requiring that to be the exclusive motivation.   The ADEA, Title VII, and the FCA all contain that same language.

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american-963190__340-300x200Some of the most conflict-ridden areas in New Jersey employment involve wage and hour issues – who needs to be paid, how much, when and for what.  An important Federal appeals court decision has shed light on one of the most contested topics in this area – when employees mostly paid for benefits.

The Wage and Hour Legal and Regulatory Framework

Wage and hour issues in New Jersey are governed by New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law and New Jersey’s Wage Payment Law.  Employers in New Jersey must also comply with the requirements of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (known as the “FLSA”), and the regulations put out by the United States Department of Labor implementing the FLSA.  New Jersey courts follow federal court decisions on the FLSA when interpreting the Wage and Hour Law and the Wage Payment Law.  The Regulations which the Department of Labor established are found in the Code of Federal Regulations, known as the “CFR.”