Articles Posted in Discrimination

New Jersey joined several other states in prohibiting hairstyle discrimination in late 2019 when the Legislature passed the “Create a Respectful and Open Workspace for Natural Hair Act,” also known as the CROWN Act. The new law adds a definition of “race” to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) that specifically includes hairstyles historically or traditionally associated with particular racial groups. Many workplaces maintain dress codes or grooming policies that, whether intentional or not, discriminate against Black workers, such as by placing an extra burden on them in terms of how they maintain their hair. New York City issued guidance about race discrimination based on hairstyles in early 2019, and versions of the CROWN Act became law in New York State and California in July. New Jersey race discrimination law thus served as a model for other states to follow.

The NJLAD bars employers from discriminating on the basis of race and multiple other factors. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). The statute identifies certain actions as discriminatory, including refusing to hire someone, firing someone or requiring them to retire, or barring them from consideration for employment based on a protected category. Discrimination in the “terms, conditions or privileges of employment” also violates the NJLAD. Id. This may include employment policies or practices that favor or disfavor one group over another, or that impose additional burdens on a group of employees without a reasonable business-related justification. These types of practices can violate laws like the NJLAD even in the absence of discriminatory intent.

New York City’s guidance on hairstyle discrimination, issued in February 2019, offers a useful overview of how it can violate antidiscrimination laws. The document describes various “hair textures [that] are common among people of African descent,” and discusses how people may choose particular hairstyles for “cultural,…personal, financial, medical, religious, or spiritual reasons.” It also describes “protective style[s], intended to maintain hair health.” Discriminatory workplace policies that prohibit many of these hairstyles are often based on “a widespread and fundamentally racist belief that [they] are not suited for formal settings.” Such policies usually derive from “white and European beauty standards.”

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Employers in New Jersey may no longer ask job applicants how much they made at their last job, thanks to a new law passed by the Legislature in June 2019 and signed by the Governor in July. The bill amends several provisions of New Jersey employment discrimination laws to prohibit employers from “screen[ing] a job applicant based on the applicant’s salary history.” Inquiries about salary history can offer employers a way around laws against pay discrimination, such as the federal Equal Pay Act (EPA). When an employer bases hiring or salary decisions on how much an applicant made at their previous job, it tends to perpetuate existing wage imbalances. As of December 2019, sixteen states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and multiple local governments have enacted laws prohibiting salary history inquiries to various degrees.

The EPA prohibits discrimination in pay on the basis of gender, meaning that employers must pay male and female employees the same for work that “requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility…under similar working conditions.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). It makes exceptions for different rates of pay based on seniority, merit, “quantity or quality of production,” or “a differential based on any other factor other than sex.” Id. Bans on salary history inquiries are partly motivated by concerns that past salary could fit into that last category. The status quo in the United States in late 2019 is that multiple wage gaps exist. People can argue over what causes these gaps, but their existence is difficult to dispute. Employment decisions based on salary history, regardless of an employer’s intent, can serve to entrench the disparities.

State laws governing salary history inquiries vary widely in what they prohibit and allow. Alabama, for example, passed a law around the same time as New Jersey that bars employers from making an adverse employment decision based solely on an applicant’s refusal to provide information on their salary history. It does not expressly prohibit employers from asking for such information. California’s law, enacted in 2017, bars employers from asking, and goes much further. Employers in California may not “rely on the salary history information of an applicant for employment” in either hiring or salary decisions, unless the applicant voluntarily discloses the information.

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The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of disability. It also requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities, in order to enable them to perform their job duties. A New Jersey disability discrimination lawsuit originally filed in the Superior Court of Bergen County alleged failure to accommodate against a grocery store. The employee was bitten on the arm by a venomous spider while at work, resulting in hospitalization. He alleged in the lawsuit that the employer failed to accommodate the “anxiety and panic attacks” that arose because of the experience, and that he was fired in violation of the NJLAD. The parties settled the suit shortly after its removal to federal court.

The term “disability,” as defined by the NJLAD, includes “any mental [or] psychological…disability…which prevents the normal exercise of any bodily or mental functions.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-5(q). Anxiety and panic disorders can be extremely debilitating for some individuals.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a guidance document in 1997 that addressed whether anxiety may qualify as a disability under federal law. Its conclusions do not control New Jersey state courts applying the NJLAD, but they may still offer some useful guidance. The EEOC offered an example of an employee whose anxiety disorder affected their “ability to concentrate.” Legal antidiscrimination protections would be available, the EEOC concluded, if the impact of the anxiety disorder is “long-term or potentially long-term, as opposed to temporary.”

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While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is considered to be the primary federal antidiscrimination law, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 also provides important protections for workers nationwide. Both the ADEA and New Jersey’s antidiscrimination statute prohibit employers from advertising job openings in ways that restrict eligibility on the basis of age. A pending federal class action against several major companies addresses a relatively new method of advertising. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants restricted the visibility of job advertisements on social media to users in certain age ranges. Several recent decisions by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) support the plaintiffs’ position that this violates the ADEA’s advertising restrictions.

The ADEA’s protections against age discrimination apply to workers who are at least forty years old. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), on the other hand, does not set a minimum age but states that employers may “refus[e] to accept for employment or to promote” a person who is more than seventy years old. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10-5:12(a). Both statutes prohibit the publication of job advertisements that demonstrate “any limitation, specification or discrimination” based on age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(e), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(c). Job listings that only purport to limit the eligibility of minors typically do not violate these statutes, since minors are subject to separate work restrictions. A job advertisement stating that a job is only open to applicants between the ages of eighteen and forty would violate both the ADE and the NJLAD.

In July 2019, the EEOC issued determination letters to seven companies based on charges filed under the ADEA. All of the charges alleged unlawful posting of job advertisements on the social media platform Facebook, which allows companies to target advertisements to certain audiences. The EEOC reported that it found evidence that the companies “used language to limit the age of individuals who were able to view the advertisement.” It notified the companies that it had found “reasonable cause to believe that [they] violated the ADEA.”

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a groundbreaking law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace and in many public businesses. Employers may not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of a covered disability, and they may be required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to allow employees to perform their job duties. The statute also bars employers in many circumstances from requiring medical examinations, or making other inquiries regarding medical conditions. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes New Jersey, recently ruled on a disability discrimination claim that included alleged violations of the ADA provisions regarding reasonable accommodations and medical inquiries. The court reversed a lower court order dismissing those claims, allowing them to move forward. If you feel your employer is not providing reasonable accommodations in light of your medical condition, it may be to your advantage to contact a New Jersey disability discrimination attorney.

In order for a person to establish that they have a “disability” under the ADA, they must show that their impairment “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” or that they are “regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 12102(1)(A), (C). A “reasonable accommodation” might include physically modifying the work environment or making adjustments to work schedules. See id. at § 12111(9). An employer commits unlawful disability discrimination when, without establishing that doing so would “impose an undue hardship,” they fail to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified employee. Id. at § 12112(b)(5)(A).

Employers may not require employees to undergo medical examinations, nor may they inquire about employees’ medical history or medical conditions, except as specifically authorized by the statutes. The ADA specifically prohibits medical examinations or inquiries intended to determine whether an employee has a disability, or to ascertain “the nature or severity of the disability,” except when an employer can show that it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” Id. at § 12112(d)(4)(A).

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Race discrimination in employment can take many forms. Sometimes an employer commits an adverse act against an employee that is unambiguously based on that employee’s race, but it is usually that obvious. Employment policies that do not appear to be motivated by any sort of racial animus, can still have a substantially disproportionate impact on employees of certain races. Workplace dress codes and grooming standards, for example, can reinforce racial discrimination by placing undue burdens on people who identify as African American or Black. These policies often, without a clear business justification, prohibit Black employees from wearing their hair in certain common hairstyles, including natural hairstyles. New York City issued guidelines in early 2019 about hairstyle discrimination. The state legislatures in California and New York later enacted laws adding hairstyle discrimination to state law definitions of race discrimination. A bill currently pending in the New Jersey Legislature would make similar changes to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). If you are concerned that your hairstyle may be related to a dispute you are having at work, reach out to a New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer today.

Employment discrimination on the basis of race is prohibited under the NJLAD. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). The statute does not currently provide a definition for “race.” It relies on common usage, but even in everyday conversation, the word “race” is fraught with subtext. Dictionary definitions like “a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits” do not capture the full meaning of the term. New York City sought to address this lack of detail in its antidiscrimination law by focusing on hairstyle discrimination.

In February 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR) published guidelines on “race discrimination on the basis of hair.” It described this as “discrimination based on characteristics and cultural practices associated with being Black.” The term “Black,” as used by the CHR, includes people who identify as African or African American, as well as people with Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latinx heritage. Workplace dress codes and grooming standards “are often rooted in white standards of appearance,” the CHR stated, and contribute to perceptions “that Black hairstyles are unprofessional.” Many such policies do not allow Black employees to maintain natural hairstyles. This requires them to undergo treatments to straighten their hair that are both expensive and damaging.

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New Jersey family and medical leave laws provide eligible workers with guaranteed time off from work for the birth of a child. State and federal laws also protect workers from discrimination by their employers because of pregnancy or childbirth. A company that operates a hospital in Middlesex County, New Jersey, recently settled a lawsuit brought by a former employee alleging discrimination on the basis of both pregnancy and medical leave. The settlement includes $500,000 in damages, plus attorney’s fees.

At the federal level, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees of covered employers up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year for certain purposes, such as the birth of a child or a serious illness. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). The eligibility criteria are based on both the total number of employees and the number of hours worked by each individual employee. See id. at §§ 2611(2)(A), (4)(A). Employers may not interfere with employees seeking to exercise their rights under these laws, nor may they discriminate against anyone for taking legally authorized leave. Id. at § 2615(a). The New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) provides similar rights and protections, with some differences. See N.J. Rev. Stat. §§ 34:11B-3(e), (f); 34:11B-4; 34:11B-9.

Both federal and New Jersey antidiscrimination statutes prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines pregnancy and childbirth discrimination as a form of sex discrimination. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a). The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of “familial status,” which includes “being the natural parent of a child” and “any person who is pregnant.” N.J. Rev. Stat. §§ 10:5-5(ll), 10:5-12(a).

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Employees who want to bring a discrimination claim against their employer under New Jersey law can file a lawsuit in court or file a complaint with a state agency. Federal law, on the other hand, requires employees to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before going to court. If a claimant does not complete the process with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit, the court can dismiss the suit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. This is known as the “administrative exhaustion defense.” It is not, however, an unlimited defense for employers. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in Fort Bend County v. Davis that a defendant in a federal employment discrimination lawsuit waived the defense by not raising it in a timely manner. If you are having a dispute with an employer, a discussion with a New Jersey employment attorney may help you better assess your situation.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) gives aggrieved employees and job applicants two options. See N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-13. They can file a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights (DCR), which is part of the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. They can also file a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court. They cannot do both, so careful planning and preparation is key to any employment discrimination claim.

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires complainants to file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). The EEOC may attempt to reach a settlement with the employer, or it may file suit against the employer on behalf of the complainant. If 180 days have passed since the charge was filed and the EEOC has not resolved the dispute, the complainant can request a formal notice, commonly known as a “right to sue” letter. Id. at § 2000e-5(f)(1), 29 C.F.R. § 1601.28. This gives the complainant ninety days to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. Without a right-to-sue letter, the employer can raise the administrative exhaustion defense.
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New Jersey’s antidiscrimination statute protects workers from discrimination on the basis of multiple categories. Federal law supplements these rights, and also protects the right of qualifying workers to unpaid leave for medical purposes. Employers may not take adverse actions against employees or job applicants on the basis of a protected category, nor may they interfere with an employee’s exercise of their right to medical leave. A lawsuit filed in July 2019 in a New Jersey federal court alleges that the plaintiff’s employer committed each of these forms of discrimination. It further alleges that the employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations for the plaintiff’s religious practices and her perceived disability.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, religion, and other factors. This includes failure to accommodate an employee’s “sincerely held religious practice or religious observance,” provided that doing so does not cause “undue hardship” to the employer. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(q)(1). Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, including any “religious observance or practice” that an employer can accommodate without undue hardship. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(j), 2000e-2(a).

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It also requires reasonable accommodations, subject to a similar exception for undue hardship. 42 U.S.C. § 12112. In addition to a wide range of “physical or mental impairment[s],” the ADA defines “disability” as “being regarded as having such an impairment.” Id. at §§ 12102(1)(C), (3). The NJLAD’s definition of “disability” does not expressly include the perception of having a disability. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-5(q).

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On July 7, 2019, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) won its fourth Women’s World Cup title, defeating the Netherlands 2-0. This victory also brought attention to the controversy regarding the players’ wages. Twenty-eight members of the USWNT filed suit in March 2019 against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the governing body for both the men’s and women’s national teams. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It seeks certification as a collective action under the EPA and a class action under Title VII. While the suit is pending in the Central District of California, one of the plaintiffs resides in New Jersey and plays for the Piscataway-based professional soccer team Skye Blue FC. Another plaintiff resides in New York.

Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). This includes disparate salaries for substantially similar work. The EPA addresses this issue more directly, barring employers from paying employees at different rates based on sex, when the jobs “require[] equal skill, effort, and responsibility…under similar working conditions.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).

Congress enacted the EPA as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which governs minimum wage, overtime, and other pay-related issues. An employee may assert claims under the FLSA for themselves and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated,” provided that those employees consent in writing. Id. at § 216(b). For Title VII claims, a group of plaintiffs can ask a court to certify their case as a class action if they can establish four elements: numerosity of claimants, commonality of claims, typicality of the representatives’ claims, and ability of the representatives to represent the other class members. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a).
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