Articles Posted in Employment Discrimination

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.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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).
Continue reading

A group of former male employees of a high-end Manhattan department store have filed a lawsuit alleging race and age discrimination against the store and its corporate parent. They claim that they were subjected to a hostile work environment because of their age or race, or both in some cases, and that the defendant unlawfully terminated their employment. Although the lawsuit is pending in a New York court, federal and New Jersey antidiscrimination laws provide a helpful comparison of varying levels of protection against age discrimination. New Jersey’s antidiscrimination statute provides broader protections than its federal counterpart.

Federal and state law provide a similar range of protections against race discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal statute, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, as well as religion, national origin, and sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, including race, color, national origin, and ancestry. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a).

New Jersey law and federal law differ in the extent to which they address age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), a federal statute, only applies to individuals who are forty years old or older. 29 U.S.C. § 631(a). It prohibits discrimination by employers based on age, using language similar to that found in Title VII. Id. at § 623(a). The statute allows exceptions, such as in cases of people who work in “a bona fide executive or a high policymaking position,” are at least sixty-five years old, and meet other criteria related to employment benefits. Id. at § 631(c).
Continue reading

Employment discrimination on the basis of genetic information is an important area of law that has not received as much attention as other forms of discrimination. This is partly because the laws protecting against genetic information discrimination have not been on the books very long. At the federal level, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 prohibits various types of discrimination in employment and health insurance. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits discrimination by employers based on specific genetic traits. This area of law is likely to gain prominence as a wider range of genetic information becomes available. Multiple companies conduct genetic testing to provide genealogy information to consumers. They are then able to use those consumers’ genetic information in a variety of ways that are not well understood. Privacy laws and consumer contracts are likely to play as important a role as employment statutes in New Jersey and around the country. If you have questions of this nature, reach out to a New Jersey employment discrimination attorney.

GINA defines “genetic information” as information obtained from “genetic tests” of an individual or their family members, or from “the manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of such individual.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000ff(4)(A). It defines a “genetic test” as “an analysis of human DNA, RNA, chromosomes, proteins, or metabolites,” provided that it is able to “detect genotypes, mutations, or chromosomal changes.” Id. at § 2000ff(7). The statute prohibits discrimination by employers based on genetic information, using language that is similar to the prohibitions on employment discrimination found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Id. at §§ 2000ff-1(a), 2000e-2(a).

Under the NJLAD, an employer commits an “unlawful employment practice” if they discriminate on the basis of an “atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual,” or an individual’s “refusal to submit to a genetic test or make available the results of a genetic test to an employer.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). The statute specifically identifies the following traits: “sickle cell trait, hemoglobin C trait, thalassemia trait, Tay-Sachs trait, or cystic fibrosis trait.” Id. at §§ 10:5-5(x)-(cc). Its definition of “genetic test” is similar to the one found in GINA. Id. at § 10:5-5(pp).
Continue reading

Under federal and New Jersey state law, age discrimination is an unlawful employment practice. If you have questions related to this area of law, contact a New Jersey employment discrimination attorney. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 prohibits discrimination based on age involving employees who are at least forty years old. Workers cannot waive their rights under the ADEA unless employers to make specific written disclosures under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) of 1989. A lawsuit currently pending in New Jersey alleges that the defendant presented the plaintiff with a proposed severance agreement that violated the OWBPA. The defendant argued that the severance agreement was moot because the plaintiff never signed it. The court rejected this argument. It found that the severance agreement could serve as evidence of a broader pattern of age discrimination in violation of the ADEA. Fowler v. AT&T, Inc., et al, No. 3:18-cv-00667, mem. op. (D.N.J., Oct. 31, 2018).

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against workers who are forty years of age or older. 29 U.S.C. §§ 623(a), 631(a). The statute allows exceptions, such as “compulsory retirement” of an employee who is at least sixty-five years old, has worked for at least two years “in a bona fide executive or a high policymaking position,” and meets certain criteria related to retirement benefits. Id. at § 631(c).

The primary purpose of the OWBPA is to prevent discrimination against older workers with regard to fringe benefits like health insurance and retirement plans. For example, the statute requires employers to incur the same costs for benefits provide to workers age forty or older as are provided to younger workers, and prohibits refusal to hire an older worker solely in order to avoid the requirement to provide benefits. Id. at § 623(f)(2). It also states that employees cannot waive their rights under the ADEA unless the waiver is “knowing and voluntary,” based on specific disclosures. Id. at § 626(f).
Continue reading

A federal jury recently found in favor of a former employee claiming national origin and age discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and state law. Middlebrooks v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., et al, No. 2:17-cv-00412, 2nd am. complaint (E.D. Pa., Apr. 25, 2017). The case is notable in part because the plaintiff alleged that the defendants, an Israeli pharmaceutical company and its American subsidiary, discriminated against him because of his “American origin.” Id. at 1. If you have questions of this nature, contact a New Jersey employment discrimination attorney.

In early 2018, the court allowed the plaintiff’s claims against the Israeli parent company to proceed under a theory of joint-employer liability. The case went to trial against both defendants in November 2018. The jury awarded the plaintiff over $6 million in damages.

Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin, among other factors, and retaliation for reporting alleged unlawful acts. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1), 2000e-3(a). The ADEA prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against individuals who are at least forty years old. 29 U.S.C. §§ 623(a)(1), 631(a). Unlawful discrimination may include harassment on the basis of a protected category, particularly when it creates a hostile work environment that prevents an individual from performing their job duties effectively.

Federal and state law prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sex, particularly with regard to salary and wages. New Jersey’s newly-enacted Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (DAEPA) is one of the most comprehensive laws in the country addressing wage disparities based on sex. The federal Equal Pay Act (EPA), while offering fewer protections, applies more broadly throughout the country. Both statutes allow employees to file suit and recover damages for wage discrimination. A lawsuit that is currently pending in a federal court alleges a widespread pattern of sex discrimination in wages and other features of employment. Cahill et al v. Nike, Inc., No. 3:18-cv-01477, complaint (D. Ore., Aug. 9, 2018). Although the case is filed in Oregon, where the defendant maintains in main headquarters, it could also affect workers in New Jersey and New York. The defendant has a significant presence in this part of the country, and recently opened a regional headquarters in New York City. If you have questions regarding possible instances of discrimination at your workplace, contact a New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to discuss.

The federal EPA was enacted as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). It prohibits employers who are covered by the FLSA from paying workers of different genders at different rates “for equal work on jobs” that “require[] equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). Employers are not liable for wage disparities resulting from systems that are based on “seniority,” “merit,” “quantity or quality of production,” or “any other factor other than sex.” Id. Employees alleging wage discrimination based on sex are subject to a two-year statute of limitations.

New Jersey’s DAEPA, which took effect in July 2018, includes the same exceptions as the EPA for systems based on seniority, merit, etc., but it goes into more detail about these exceptions. Any differential in pay must be based on “legitimate, bona fide factors other than the characteristics of members of the protected class.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(t)(1), as amended. Employees have six years to file suit for alleged violations.
Continue reading

A new law, entitled the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (DAEPA), went into effect in New Jersey on July 1, 2018. Described by the media as “the strongest equal pay law in America,” the law amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) to address disparities in pay based on all protected categories. If a covered business pays workers at different rates, it must justify the difference based on factors like education or experience. The state recently issued reporting forms for businesses that enter into certain contracts with the state, which they must submit to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The federal Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 prohibits paying employees at different rates “on the basis of sex” in jobs that “require[] equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and…are performed under similar working conditions.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). The statute allows exceptions where the disparity is based on seniority, merit, “quantity or quality of production,” or other non-sex-based factors. Id. The EPA amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and allows complainants to recover damages through the same process for minimum wage and overtime violations. Id. at § 206(d)(3). The law has a two-year statute of limitations, meaning that complainants cannot recover damages for more than two years of New Jersey equal pay violations. Id. at §§ 216(c), 255(a).

The DAEPA was introduced in the New Jersey Legislature as Senate Bill 104 on January 9, 2018, and as Assembly Bill 1 on March 22. It passed both houses on March 26, and was signed into law by the governor on April 24, with an effective date of July 1. According to media analyses of federal labor statistics, female workers are paid eighty-two cents for every dollar paid to male workers in New Jersey. This number includes all women throughout the state. For women of color, the pay disparity is much greater. The DAEPA goes further than equal pay statutes that focus on sex or gender. It prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of any protected class identified by the NJLAD, such as race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, etc.
Continue reading

The U.S. Constitution limits the government’s ability to infringe on a range of rights, including the First Amendment right to free speech. In the context of New Jersey employment matters, this usually places far more limits on public employers than private employers. As a general rule, a private employer does not infringe on an employee’s freedom of speech if they discipline or fire that employee because of statements they have made. Since public employers are part of the government, they have less leeway with regard to employee speech. A lawsuit filed earlier this year, however, alleges that a private employer violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights by firing her because of her speech. Briskman v. Akima, LLC, No. 2018-5335, complaint (Va. Cir. Ct., Fairfax Cty., Apr. 4, 2018). The plaintiff claims that the defendant fired her “out of fear of unlawful retaliation by the government for constitutionally protected speech,” id. at 8, and that this makes her termination a violation of her First Amendment rights.

Caselaw has largely established broad protections for the free speech rights of public employees with regard to their employment. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a public employee who speaks out about “issues of public importance” cannot be subject to termination by their employer, unless their statements were “knowingly or recklessly” false. Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 574 (1968). This does not apply, however, when the employee is speaking in their official capacity as a government employee. Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006).

Private employers have fewer restrictions with regard to disciplining employees, including terminating them, for statements they have made. This often applies even when the statement or statements at issue involved matters of public concern that were unrelated to the employee’s position with the employer. Some exceptions apply, such as when the speech involves activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 157, or when a state or local anti-discrimination law includes protections for “political activities,” N.Y. Lab. L. § 201-D. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that termination for an employee’s political activities, or their refusal to participate in political activities, could violate public policy. Novosel v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 721 F. 2d 894 (3rd Cir. 1983).

Contact Information