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Technology is constantly providing new ways to help both employers and employees in New Jersey. Unfortunately, sometimes a technology that helps employers does so at employees’ expense. Our legal system can be slow to catch up with new innovations. Fitness trackers, which are devices individuals can wear to track movement and other vital statistics, are becoming more and more common. Many employers have taken notice of this. A recent Washington Post article describes fitness trackers as “an increasingly valuable source of workforce health intelligence for employers.” Employers’ access to, and use of, employees’ fitness tracker data raises concerns about privacy. In some cases, it could raise concerns about employment discrimination. Federal and New Jersey employment laws prohibit discrimination on a wide range of factors, and protect privacy in certain areas. Opinions are mixed on the extent to which they cover fitness tracker data.

Arguably, employers use employee fitness tracker data to monitor performance. The devices record information about an employee’s movement, or lack thereof. This could be relevant to job performance, but it could also present problems. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of disability. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). The statute defines this term very broadly, covering a wide range of physical and mental conditions that “prevent[] the normal exercise of any bodily or mental functions.” Id. at § 10:5-5(q). At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, as amended by the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, also prohibits employment discrimination. This statute’s definition of “disability” includes both actual and perceived disabilities. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12102(1)(C), 12112.

State and federal antidiscrimination law also prohibit discrimination by employers based on genetic information. This could be an issue for employers using fitness tracker data in some situations. The NJLAD defines “genetic information” as “information about genes, gene products or inherited characteristics.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-5(oo). The plain language of the statute suggests that the information does not have to come from a genetic test ordered by the employer. The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) focuses more specifically on genetic testing. It defines “genetic information” as information derived from a person’s genetic test or that of a family member, or “the manifestation of a disease or disorder” in a member of that person’s family. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000ff(4)(A), 2000ff-1(a).
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Organized labor is arguably responsible for many features of employment that are often taken for granted today. Union membership has decreased considerably over the past few decades for a variety of reasons. Employees in New Jersey are union members at a higher rate than the national average, but union members still only account for less than twenty percent of New Jersey’s workforce. Public sector unions tend to receive a great deal of media attention today, and the most popular historical images of union membership probably involve trades like manufacturing and mining. Recent news coverage, however, has pointed to itself as an important sector for union organizing. Newsrooms at print and digital publications around the country have elected to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. While it is not clear if employees at any New Jersey-based publications have taken this step, it has happened at many publications that reach New Jersey readers.

New Jersey remains generally favorable to labor unions. Federal law protects workers’ rights to organize and engage in “concerted activities” related to organizing, and prohibits employers from interfering with those rights. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 157, 158. It does not, however, prevent states from enacting so-called “right-to-work” laws. At least twenty-six states, not including New Jersey, have enacted such laws. Right-to-work laws prohibit “union security clauses” in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) between employers and labor unions. A union security clause requires all employees to contribute to the union, either by becoming a member or paying a fee. Without a union security agreement, employees who contribute nothing to the union still benefit from the union’s efforts.

Despite offering a relatively favorable environment for labor unions, not many New Jersey workers are union members. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, New Jersey had 630,000 union members in 2017. This accounted for 16.2 percent of all employees in the state. New York had 2,017,000 union members in 2017, or 23.8 percent. Both states saw a decline in union membership since 2007. New York’s number of union members fell by 38,000, while New Jersey’s fell by 118,000.
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Federal and state antitrust laws prohibit agreements that attempt to restrain trade in various forms. This applies to New Jersey employment disputes when competing businesses agree not to hire one another’s employees, or to set limits on wages or benefits. This type of unlawful activity by employers is commonly known as “collusion.” In addition to statutes, collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) also often include anti-collusion provisions. A professional football player recently settled a dispute with the National Football League (NFL), in which he alleged that the league and its individual teams colluded to deprive him of job opportunities because of his participation in a controversial protest. The dispute was submitted to arbitration under the terms of the CBA between the NFL and players. It was styled Kaepernick v. NFL, et al, but it was not a lawsuit filed in a court of law.

At the federal level, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 prohibits any “contract…in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States.” 15 U.S.C. § 1. This has been interpreted very broadly over the years to apply to a wide range of commercial activities, including employment. Similarly, the New Jersey Antitrust Act prohibits “contract[s]…in restraint of trade or commerce, in this State.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 56:9-3.

The Kaepernick case cited Article 17 of the CBA between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), which has been in effect since August 4, 2011. The CBA is binding on the NFL and its thirty-two teams, also known as clubs. Section 1(a) of Article 17 prohibits clubs from “enter[ing] into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other Club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit individual Club decision-making” with regard to hiring decisions. Remedies, addressed in §§ 8 and 9 of Article 17, include termination of existing contracts and compensatory damages.
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The technology industry is gaining prominence in New Jersey. A list of the five hundred fastest-growing tech companies from last year included sixteen New Jersey companies. A strong tech industry can bring many benefits to state and local economies, but the tech industry also has its share of problems. The industry’s struggles with age and gender discrimination have received a great deal of media attention. A common feature in the tech industry that does not receive as much attention, in the context of employment law, is the expectation that employees work long hours. Despite research suggesting that longer hours do not translate into greater productivity or value, numerous industries continue to view working far in excess of forty hours per week as both a rite of passage and an ongoing necessity. It may also, according to some critics, be a form of New Jersey disability discrimination.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of disability. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a), 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). The ADA defines a disability in very general terms as a “physical or mental impairment” that impedes a person’s “major life activities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1). Employers must make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities, defined to include both modifications for physical accessibility and modifications to shift schedules or job duties. Id. at § 12111(9).

The popular perception of a “disability” in the workplace probably involves a person with impaired mobility, or who is otherwise unable to perform some physical aspect of a job, such as lifting heavy objects. This is far from the only type of disability. Impairments affecting eyesight or hearing, for example, could qualify as a disability under the ADA. Chronic illnesses that affect energy levels of energy can also be considered disabilities. People who experience ongoing fatigue because of a medical condition may not be able to work more than forty hours per week, let alone eighty or more hours. The tech industry reportedly does not track disability among its employees, so it is difficult to know the extent of the issue.
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Wage disparity is an important—and controversial—topic in American politics. Women, on average, tend to make less than men. The same is often true for people of color as compared to White employees. Some lawmakers and officials at the local and state level are looking at ways that employers, intentionally or not, may perpetuate wage gaps through inquiries into job applicants’ salary histories. Such inquiries may make it difficult for job applicants to negotiate salaries that break from historical patterns of wage disparity. Bans on employer salary history inquiries are becoming more common around the country. Statutes focused on New Jersey employment law do not prohibit such inquiries by private employers, but a 2018 executive order prohibits them among state offices and agencies. Earlier this year, Suffolk County, New York became the latest local government to enact a salary history ban. A few states, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, have gone in a different direction by barring local governments from enacting bans of their own.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order #1 on January 16, 2018, in his first official act after he took the oath of office. The text of the order notes that women in New Jersey receive wages of eighty-two cents for every dollar paid to men in full-time jobs, and that this gap appears regardless of industry or education level. These disparities are even more pronounced when the full-time wages of African-American and Latina women are compared to those of White men in New Jersey—fifty-eight cents and forty-three cents, respectively. The order declares that New Jersey workers “should be compensated based on the nature of the work and services they provide.”

The order took effect on February 1 of last year. It prohibits state entities from inquiring about salary history, including both direct inquiries to job applicants and independent investigations, until a conditional offer of employment has been made. Applicants may voluntarily provide information, but may not be required to do so. If a state entity already has information about an applicant’s salary history, it may not consider that information when making a hiring decision, unless a statute or collective bargaining agreement requires it to do so. The executive order does not create a private cause of action for aggrieved job applicants, but does empower the governor’s office to investigate claims “and take appropriate remedial measures.”
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Federal antidiscrimination laws prohibit a wide range of acts by employers and others that have adverse effects on members of protected groups. This protection is not limited to overtly discriminatory behavior. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits practices that have a disparate impact on protected groups, even when those practices appear neutral on their face or do not appear to have discriminatory intent. This applies to employment, housing, and other areas. An employer’s intent is not the most important factor when assessing whether an action, policy, or practice is discriminatory. A recent report on an internal memorandum at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) suggests that the current administration is considering rolling back regulatory prohibitions on disparate impact discrimination. While the memorandum reportedly refers to Title VI cases, not Title VII, any rollbacks in other areas of antidiscrimination regulations are likely to have an effect on New Jersey employment discrimination claims, as well as nationwide.

The most important U.S. Supreme Court decision on disparate impact discrimination in employment is Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971). A group of African-American employees alleged that the defendant violated Title VII by requiring candidates for transfer or promotion within the company to have a high school diploma or pass “a standardized general intelligence test.” Id. at 426. The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs. It found that, while the defendant’s policy appeared neutral with regard to race, it was not “significantly related to successful job performance” and had the effect of discriminating against African-American employees. Id. The Supreme Court has also rejected a “bottom line” defense, in which an employer argued that they should not be held liable if a discriminatory practice happens not to have an overall adverse impact in the balance of employees. Connecticut v. Teal, 457 U.S. 440 (1982).

Several federal agencies have adopted a set of standards known as the Uniform Guidelines for Employee Selection Procedures in their regulations. This includes the DOJ and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). See 28 C.F.R. § 50.14, 29 C.F.R. pt. 1607. Under these guidelines, a selection rate in hiring or promotion for a protected category like race or sex that “is less than four-fifths (4/5) (or eighty percent) of the rate for the group with the highest rate” is considered evidence of disparate impact discrimination. 28 C.F.R. 50.14(4)(D), 29 C.F.R. § 1607.4(D). Both the DOJ and the EEOC raise claims of disparate impact in civil enforcement actions.
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New Jersey employment laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of numerous factors. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) offers protection to more categories than its federal counterpart, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, although other federal statutes cover areas that are omitted from Title VII. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, for example, protects older employees from various adverse employment actions based on their age. New Jersey law tends to offer broader protection in this area as well, without the lower age limit found in the ADEA. A putative class action currently pending in a New York City federal court asserts claims for age discrimination under the ADEA and several state statutes. Rusis, et al v. Int’l Business Machines Corp., No. 1:18-cv-08434, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Sep. 17, 2018).

The term “age discrimination” principally refers to adverse employment actions against older individuals, and in favor of younger individuals. The ADEA expressly limits its protections to people who are forty years old or older. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). The statute prohibits various discriminatory acts and disparate treatment against protected individuals because of their age. As long as a person meets the ADEA’s age criterion, however, it is possible for them to bring a claim for discrimination against younger employees in favor of older ones. The statute allows exceptions in situations “where age is a bona fide occupational qualification.” Id. at § 623(f)(1). The NJLAD does not set a minimum age for protection against age discrimination. See N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12. An individual must, however, be at least eighteen years old—i.e. not subject to child labor laws—to assert a claim.

The allegations in the Rusis lawsuit follow the familiar scenario of discrimination against older workers in favor of younger ones. This scenario seems to be particularly common in the tech industry, which is often alleged to favor youth among job applicants, and to believe that older workers are less likely to be familiar with newer technologies. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the defendant began laying off employees in 2012 in an effort to recruit younger workers. It has allegedly laid off as many as twenty thousand people over the age of forty since then. The plaintiffs claim that the defendant has actively recruited among the age group commonly known as “Millennials,” which they say the company defines as people born after 1980, in an effort “to make the face of [the defendant] younger.” Rusis, complaint at 4.
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The New Jersey minimum wage was increased on January 1, 2019 from $8.60 to $8.85 per hour. This is more than a dollar above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, but it is lower than numerous other states. Massachusetts, California, and Washington, for example, currently set their minimum at $12.00 per hour. New York’s state-level minimum wage is around $11.00 per hour. New Jersey’s governor has stated that he would like to see a $15 minimum wage statewide. A recent deal with state legislators has increased the likelihood of that happening, although the increase would be gradual. Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour several years ago, and some observers note that the dire predictions of critics have not materialized.

The U.S. Congress last raised the federal minimum wage in the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. Pub. L. 110-28 § 8102. That bill raised the federal rate to $5.85 after sixty days, with two additional increases. It has remained at $7.25 per hour since July 2010. 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1). New Jersey voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2013, which set the statewide minimum wage at $8.25 per hour starting on January 1, 2014. N.J. Const. Art. I, ¶ 23. It further directed the state to increase the minimum wage every year based on the increase in “the consumer price index for all urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W) as calculated by the federal government.” Id. This process resulted in the $8.85 per hour rate that took effect at the beginning of January 2019. N.J.A.C. § 12:56-3.1(a).

A bill pending in the New Jersey Legislature, A15/S15, was reported out of both the Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees in late January 2019. The the bill includes the CPI-W provisions of the 2013 constitutional amendment, but also sets increases in the minimum wage beginning in mid-2019. The minimum wage would increase by the greater of the amounts set by the bill or the increase in the CPI-W. The current rate of $8.85 per hour would increase to $10.00 per hour on July 1, 2019, and to $11.00 per hour on January 1, 2020. Each January 1 afterwards, the state minimum wage would increase by $1.00 until 2024, when it would be $15.00. If the U.S. Congress increases the federal minimum wage at any time to an amount greater than the state minimum wage rate, the federal rate would apply.
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Federal and New Jersey employment statutes prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and conditions related to either, but these legal protections have omitted some aspects of the pregnancy and childbirth process. Pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth often need accommodations in the workplace. The specific needs of breastfeeding employees have long been omitted from both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). In early 2018, however, the New Jersey governor signed a bill, A2294, amending the NJLAD to provide express protections against discrimination based on breastfeeding, and to require certain reasonable accommodations. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) makes some provision for reasonable accommodations in this context, but only provides for unpaid time.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII’s definition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” to include “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a). The NJLAD identifies pregnancy as a distinct protected category alongside factors like sex, race, and religion. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). It goes further, stating that employers may not treat employees that they know, or should know, are pregnant differently than non-pregnant employees as long as the employees are capable of performing similar work. Id. at § 10:5-12(s).

Even before the amendments in A2294, the NJLAD went further than federal law, requiring employers to provide certain accommodations to pregnant workers reflecting the need for rest, water intake, restroom usage, lifting restrictions, and schedule modifications. Id. Title VII does not include any provisions for such reasonable accommodations, although the Americans with Disabilities Act may provide some assistance. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 applies a broader definition of disability that, while not expressly mentioning pregnancy, could include some conditions related to pregnancy. See 29 C.F.R. Appendix to § 1630.2(h).
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Many New Jersey employers include provisions for arbitration of disputes in written contracts with new employees. In order for an arbitration agreement to be legally enforceable, it must, among other criteria, contain enough information to demonstrate a “meeting of the minds” between the parties. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled that an arbitration agreement, signed decades after the plaintiff began working for the defendant, was not enforceable because there was no “meeting of the minds” in evidence. Flanzman V. Jenny Craig, Inc., No. A-2580-17T1, slip op. (N.J. App., Nov. 13, 2018).

The plaintiff in Flanzman is alleging age discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). This statute prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of numerous factors, including age. Whereas the federal statute addressing age discrimination expressly states that it only applies to individuals who are forty years of age or older, 29 U.S.C. § 631(a), the NJLAD does not set a minimum age. It does, however, state that an employer does not automatically violate the law if they “refus[e] to accept for employment or to promote any person over 70 years of age.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). This exception only covers two specific discriminatory acts: refusal to hire and refusal to promote. It does not mention other acts, such as termination or unequal pay.

In order for a contract to be enforceable, the party seeking enforcement must demonstrate that the other party knowingly assented to the agreement. Courts are particularly strict about this requirement when the contractual term at issue involves a waiver of legal rights. An arbitration agreement waives the right to seek redress in court. If the agreement provides for binding arbitration, the parties may have no recourse in the court system at all. New Jersey courts therefore require evidence that an employee “clearly and unambiguously agree[d] to waive his or her statutory rights.” Flanzman, slip op. at 8, quoting Leodori v. Cigna Corp., 175 N.J. 293, 302 (2003).
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