Articles Posted in Employment Discrimination

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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Many statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability also prohibit discrimination because of a person’s relationship or association with a person with a disability. For example, an employer would engage in an unlawful employment practice under one of these statutes if they terminate or otherwise take adverse action against an employee because a member of the employee’s family has a covered disability. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) expressly prohibits this sort of “associational discrimination.” See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4). The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) does not specifically mention associational discrimination, but courts have found that it is included in the statute’s prohibition on discrimination based on disability and other factors. In June 2019, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that an individual who resides in Illinois can assert a claim for associational discrimination under the NJLAD against his New Jersey-based former employer. If you have a workplace dispute, a New Jersey employment lawyer can help make sense of state and federal laws that could have an impact on your case.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADA takes a broad view of associations and relationships. It is not limited to close family members like spouses, children, or parents. The EEOC offers a hypothetical example of an individual who “tutors children at a local homeless shelter” that “is well-known for providing job placement assistance for people living with HIV/AIDS.” ADA regulations identify HIV as a covered disability. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(3)(iii). If that individual’s employer terminates them because of that activity, the EEOC says that they would be in violation of the ADA. The “association” in this example is minimal when compared to many familial relationships.

The defendant in the case described above is based in New Jersey. It hired the plaintiff in 2008 to work as a vice president at the office of a subsidiary in Illinois. The employment agreement included choice of law clauses identifying New Jersey as the governing law and venue for disputes. The plaintiff’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer that same year. It went into remission but returned in 2014. The defendant was aware of her condition. The plaintiff alleges that, in 2016, the defendant denied him an opportunity for a promotion and then terminated him.
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The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) offers extensive protections against discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. This includes factors like sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, which are not explicitly identified as protected categories under federal law or laws in many other states. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 identifies five protected factors, including sex. Court decisions and amendments to the statute have expanded the federal definition of “sex discrimination” to include sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. Most federal courts have been reluctant to expand the definition further to encompass factors like sexual orientation. In April 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals in two cases that involve sexual orientation discrimination claims under Title VII. The two appellate courts reached different conclusions, creating a circuit split. The Supreme Court also accepted a Title VII case alleging gender identity discrimination, despite the lack of a circuit split.

Employers in New Jersey may not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of “affectional or sexual orientation.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). State law defines this as various forms of “attraction or behavior” that are directed principally towards members of one particular gender or either gender. Id. at §§ 10:5-5(hh) – (kk). It includes a person’s actual “inclination, practice, identity or expression” of a particular orientation; a history of the same; or the perception of having a particular orientation. Id. at § 10:5-5(hh).

Some courts have concluded that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination already includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Discriminating against an individual because of the gender or sex to which they are attracted is, in essence, discrimination on the basis of sex. A Supreme Court ruling that recognizes “sex stereotyping” as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII arguably supports this interpretation. Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989).
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