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Articles Posted in Discrimination

Employment laws in New Jersey and around the country protect workers from discrimination by their employers on the basis of disability. Both state and federal law define “disability” broadly to include a wide range of conditions, including injuries, illnesses, and congenital conditions. After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are learning more about the long-term effects of the disease on some people. These conditions, often known as “long-haul COVID” or simply “long COVID,” can include symptoms affecting people’s respiratory, neurological, digestive, and reproductive systems, among others. Laws addressing disability discrimination in the workplace may protect people suffering from long COVID. Not only would employers be barred from disparate treatment due to long COVID symptoms, but they would also be obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for those symptoms.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of disability. The NJLAD’s definition of “disability” includes a “physical…disability…[or] infirmity…which is caused by…illness.” The statute lists many specific conditions across a broad range, such as visual or hearing impairments, paralysis, autism spectrum disorder, and HIV infection or AIDS. The initial language regarding “illness,” however, suggests that the long-term impact of disease also qualifies as a disability.

The ADA specifically states that courts and others should construe its definition of “disability” “in favor of broad coverage of individuals…to the maximum extent permitted by the” statute. It defines the term, in part, as a “physical…impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” including “walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, [and] breathing.”
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Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related issues remains a problem in workplaces in New Jersey and around the country despite numerous forward strides in recent years. In 2014, amendments to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) added pregnancy discrimination as a specific unlawful employment practice. This includes failure to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who are pregnant or who have given birth recently. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on a pregnancy discrimination claim earlier this year, affirming that both disparate treatment based on pregnancy and failure to provide reasonable accommodations are violations of the NJLAD. This could be a timely concern for many New Jersey workers who are returning to the workplace as the COVID-19 pandemic winds down. The news media have reported on numerous difficulties faced by people who are looking for jobs while also dealing with parental responsibilities.

Under federal law, pregnancy discrimination is included in the statutory definition of discrimination “on the basis of sex.” Prior to 2014, pregnancy discrimination under the NJLAD could also be viewed as a form of sex or gender discrimination. Pregnancy is now listed as a distinct protected category along with sex, gender identity or expression, and others. State law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers, such as additional bathroom and water breaks, lifting restrictions, and modified work schedules based on their needs during pregnancy. Employers must offer these accommodations in a way that is at least equally favorable as accommodations offered for reasons other than pregnancy.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of a police officer who alleged pregnancy discrimination by Ocean Township and various officials. Her lawsuit involved two standing operating procedures (SOPs) regarding “light duty” work assignments. One SOP specifically addressed light duty related to pregnancy, while the other applied to injuries not related to pregnancy.
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A criminal conviction can have long-lasting effects on a person’s life, even after they have completed their sentence. Many employers refuse to hire applicants with felony records, and sometimes even having a record of an arrest can work against a person. Numerous states, including New Jersey, have enacted laws that restrict the use of criminal history in hiring to various degrees. The goal is to help people restart their lives once they have “repaid their debt to society,” as the saying goes. New Jersey employment laws bar employers from asking about criminal history in the early stages of the hiring process. They are not the only safeguard for job seekers looking for a fresh start. The use of criminal history in hiring can lead to discrimination on the basis of race. A putative class action filed this summer in a New Jersey federal court makes this allegation against a national retail chain.

Laws that restrict employer inquiries about criminal history are informally known as “ban the box” laws, in reference to the checkbox on many job applications asking whether an applicant has a criminal record. New Jersey’s law does not go as far as other laws. It bars employers from asking applicants about criminal history during the “initial employment application process.” After that, employers may ask, and the law does not restrict how they may use the information they obtain. Laws in some other jurisdictions prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants on the basis of criminal history, with exceptions when an applicant’s history is directly relevant to the job they are seeking.

Laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibit discrimination on the basis of race. This includes both overt discrimination that treats members of one race differently from others, and “disparate impact” discrimination, in which a seemingly neutral policy or practice has a disproportionately negative effect on members of one race. A plaintiff claiming disparate impact discrimination does not need to prove that the employer intended to discriminate. They only need to show that the policy or practice was not reasonably necessary for the employer’s business operations, and that it negatively affected one race more than others.
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Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job seekers on the basis of a variety of factors. Race, sex, and religion might be the most well-known categories protected by federal employment antidiscrimination law, but they are not the only ones. In addition to those three, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also bars discrimination based on color and national origin. Other federal statutes address discrimination on the basis of age, disability, and genetic information. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952 states that employers may not discriminate against employees and job applicants on the basis of national origin or citizenship status, provided that they are authorized to work in the U.S. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it had settled immigration discrimination claims against two New Jersey employers. If you have concerns about discriminatory practices in the workplace, reach out to a New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer as soon as possible.

Immigration law in the U.S. is quite complicated. In overly-simplified terms, people present in the U.S. can be described as belonging to one of five groups:
1. U.S. citizens;
2. Lawful permanent residents;
3. Nonimmigrant visa holders with employment authorization;
4. Nonimmigrant visa holders without employment authorization; and
5. Undocumented immigrants.
People enrolled in programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) do not quite fit into these categories, since they may be authorized to work despite being considered undocumented. The key factor in the INA’s employment discrimination provisions is whether an individual can legally work in the U.S.

The INA states that employers with three or more employees may not discriminate on the basis of national origin or citizenship, with the exception that they may “prefer equally qualified citizens” over non-citizens. It is also unlawful for an employer to require “more or different documents” than those required to prove employment authorization under the INA, or to refuse to accept seemingly valid documents. Individuals may file a discrimination complaint with the DOJ. They may not, however, file a complaint of national origin discrimination with the DOJ if they have already filed a Title VII complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging national origin discrimination.
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The New Jersey Legislature passed a law last year legalizing recreational cannabis. The governor signed it into law in February 2021. The Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (CREAMMA) legalizes the possession and use of cannabis by people who are at least 21 years old. It also clarifies some issues related to employment law and establishes standards for workplace drug testing. In August 2021, the ​​New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) issued guidelines on legal issues surrounding the personal use of cannabis. The guidelines do not address various employment issues, instead deferring them to a later date.

CREAMMA amends existing state law to include employment protections related to lawful cannabis use. Despite laws authorizing its use to varying degrees in most states, cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Many employers have continued to ban cannabis use by employees, even when they are not on the job, as part of broader “drug-free workplace” policies.

Earlier New Jersey cannabis laws legalizing its use did not provide any employment protection for individuals who used cannabis in compliance with the law, such as for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription. Section 24:6I-52(a)(1), newly added by CREAMMA, bars employers from discriminating against employees based on both legal cannabis use and refusal to engage in legal cannabis use. They are also barred from discriminating against an employee because of “the presence of cannabinoid metabolites in the employee’s bodily fluid,” when this is the result of lawful conduct.
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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of sex and other factors. Compared to New Jersey employment discrimination law (the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination), Title VII’s list of protected categories seems short. Federal court decisions have expanded the scope of the statute beyond the narrowest literal meaning of its words, to include categories or actions mentioned more specifically in other laws. Most recently, a 2020 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In June 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance clarifying its interpretation of Title VII in light of the court’s ruling.

Federal law does not provide a specific definition of “sex” in the context of employment discrimination. The Supreme Court has built on the statute’s rather sparse language in several important rulings. In 1986, for example, the court ruled in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson that sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. That case involved sexual harassment of a female employee by a male supervisor. The court ruled in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services in 1998 that sexual harassment of a man by male employees may also violate Title VII.

The Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins expanded the understanding of sex discrimination by holding that Title VII bars discrimination on the basis of “sex stereotyping.” The plaintiff in that case claimed that the defendant discriminated against her because she did not conform to expectations of how she should dress and behave as a woman. This decision did not lead directly to last summer’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, but it set an important precedent.
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Employment discrimination or harassment claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination usually involve actions by specific employees, supervisors, managers, or executives. In order to make a successful New Jersey employment discrimination claim, a plaintiff must establish that the employer is legally responsible for the actions of that person or those people. This is known as “vicarious liability.” The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled in favor of a plaintiff in her hostile work environment lawsuit, reversing the trial court’s summary judgment for the defendant. The appellate court held that the plaintiff had raised a question as to whether her alleged harasser had acted within his authority as a supervisor when he told the plaintiff to “leave and don’t come back.”

Hostile work environment is a type of sexual harassment that occurs when one or more people engage in unwelcome sexual conduct to the point that a reasonable person would consider it to render the workplace hostile. An employer can be held vicariously liable for a hostile work environment perpetrated by any employee, even if they do not have authority over the plaintiff, as long as the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to act.

The New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2015 that defined a rule for determining whether vicarious liability should apply to an employer in sexual harassment and similar claims, when the alleged harasser was in a position of authority over the plaintiff. It based this rule on the Ellerth/Faragher analysis, named after two Supreme Court rulings from 1998, Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. Boca Raton. The Ellerth/Faragher analysis states that a defendant can avoid vicarious liability if it can establish three elements:
1. It “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior”;
2. The plaintiff “unreasonably failed to take advantage of” the remedies offered by the employer; and
3. The plaintiff was not subject to any “tangible employment action” by the alleged harasser.
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The Resnick Law Group achieved a major victory for one of our clients earlier this month, when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that she did not have to show an “adverse employment action” in order to bring a claim under New Jersey disability discrimination law. The plaintiff alleged that her employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for her, and that this resulted in life altering injuries to her. The court also ruled that the claim was not barred by the state’s workers’ compensation law.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects workers against discrimination on the basis of disability. It defines this term very broadly to include illnesses that are “demonstrable…by accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques.” The text of the NJLAD itself does not specifically require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, but the New Jersey Administrative Code requires accommodations as long as they do not present an “undue hardship” for the employer. Failure to provide an accommodation is an “unlawful employment practice” under the NJLAD.

One question before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether a plaintiff has to show an adverse employment action in order to make a claim for failure to accommodate a disability. An “adverse employment action” has typically been defined as a termination, suspension, or demotion. For the first time however, the high court decided that employees that suffer from a disability and do not necessarily fall into the above categories are also entitled to relief, and determined that an “adverse employment action” is not required to be shown in a reasonable accommodation case.
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New Jersey’s employment laws protect workers from a wide range of concerns. They guarantee payment of a minimum wage and compensation for overtime work. They prohibit discrimination on the basis of factors like race, religion, gender, disability, military service, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more. They require reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and employees who are nursing newborns. These protections apply to job applicants as well as employees, with the goal of ensuring a fair hiring process with opportunities for as many people as possible. Enforcing these rights may require the assistance of an employment lawyer with experience in New Jersey’s legal system. The following is the first installment in an overview of New Jersey laws protecting job seekers, to help you understand your rights.

Employment Discrimination

Employers may not subject employees or job applicants to discriminatory treatment based solely or primarily on certain factors or characteristics. This includes refusing to hire someone because they are part of a protected group. For a job applicant turned down for a job, it can be difficult to prove what motivated an employer’s decision. An employment discrimination lawyer can help build a case under state law.

Protected Categories

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of the following factors:
– Race;
– Religion;
– Gender;
– Age;
– Disability;
– Pregnancy or breastfeeding;
– Marital, civil union, or domestic partnership status;
– Sexual orientation;
– Gender identity and gender expression;
– Military service obligations;
– Nationality or national origin; and
– Genetic information, including refusal to take a genetic test.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic shows signs of winding down, and New Jersey lifts many of the restrictions that have been in place for over a year, employers across the state report that they cannot find enough workers for their businesses. Some employers, rather predictably, blame expanded unemployment benefits. That might be one possible explanation, but it alone does not explain the reported worker shortage. Many of the industries reporting problems finding enough employees, to be blunt, do not have the best track records when it comes to fair wages, workplace safety, and other things that workers should be able to expect from their employers. Federal and New Jersey employment laws guarantee various protections for workers, and the fact that people are not hurrying to return to certain workplaces might serve as a reminder that maintaining these legal protections is an ongoing struggle.

Workers’ Rights Under Federal and New Jersey Law

Statutes at the state and federal level guarantee many New Jersey workers a minimum wage. They also protect workers’ right to a workplace free of discrimination, harassment, and unreasonable danger.

Minimum Wage

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has set the federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour since 2010. 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1)(C). For tipped employees, which include many restaurant workers, employers must pay a base wage of $2.13 per hour. Id. at § 203(m)(2), 29 C.F.R. § 531.59.
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