Employment Contract May Not Restrict Employee’s Rights Under New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, According to State Supreme Court

timerThe New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) protects workers in this state from a wide range of unlawful employment practices. In order to assert their rights and claim damages, individuals must follow procedures outlined in the LAD, as well as case law interpreting the statute. This includes a two-year statute of limitations for filing suit. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that an employment contract may not limit the protection offered by the LAD by reducing this time period from two years to six months. Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Co., No. A-27 Sept. Term 2014, 074603, slip op. (N.J., Jun. 15, 2016). The court held that any such restriction “defeats the public policy goal” of the LAD. Id. at 4.

The LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of various protected categories, including race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12. It also prohibits retaliation against an employee for asserting their rights, such as by making an internal complaint to a human resources official or an external complaint to state or federal officials.

An individual may file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, or they may file suit in Superior Court against an employer for alleged violations of the LAD. The statute does not specify a time frame during which a complainant must file suit, but the state Supreme Court has determined that the applicable statute of limitations is two years. Montells v. Haynes, 627 A.2d 654, 133 N.J. 282 (1993).

The plaintiff in Rodriguez applied for a job with the defendant in August 2007. The application included a section printed in all-capital, bold letters, stating that it would become part of the formal employment contract if the employer hired the applicant. It stated that the applicant agreed to file any employment-related claim or lawsuit against the employer within six months of the date of the action or incident giving rise to the claim. The section also included an express disclaimer of “any statute of limitations to the contrary.” Rodriguez, slip op. at 5. The defendant hired the plaintiff several weeks later.

A work-related accident in April 2010 resulted in a knee injury. This left the plaintiff unable to work, and he applied for and received workers’ compensation. After surgery and physical therapy, the plaintiff was cleared to return to work that September, but he was laid off soon afterward. He filed suit in Superior Court in July 2011, seven months after his termination, alleging disability discrimination and retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant, finding that the suit was barred by the six-month time limit in the employment contract. The Appellate Division affirmed this ruling. 93 A.3d 760, 436 N.J. Super. 305 (2014). The New Jersey Supreme Court, however, reversed these rulings, finding that the six-month limitation violated public policy. It observed that shortening the statute of limitations to six months “effectively eliminates claims” in which a plaintiff failed to realize that they had a claim quickly enough. Rodriguez at 27. The court held that the purpose of the two-year statute is “to impose uniformity and certainty,” id., and the six-month limitation frustrated this purpose.

If you need to speak to a disability discrimination attorney or seek representation in another type of employment discrimination claim in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New Employment-Related Bills Pending in the New Jersey Legislature, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, August 5, 2016

Employees May Be Able to Assert Title VII Claims Regardless of Immigration Status, According to Appellate Court Ruling, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, June 3, 2016

Certain Terms May Act as Code for Age Discrimination, Other Unlawful Employment Practices in New Jersey, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, May 19, 2016

Photo credit: Retro00064 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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