Articles Posted in Employment Discrimination

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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Federal employment anti-discrimination law identifies five protected categories: race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. Court decisions have added nuance to these categories, particularly with regard to sex discrimination. Most courts, in interpreting federal law, have been unwilling to extend the law’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex to include factors like sexual orientation or gender identity. New Jersey and other states have amended their own anti-discrimination laws to include specific protections against these forms of discrimination in employment, housing, and other areas. The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.5, known as the Equality Act, in May 2019. The bill would amend federal law to match anti-discrimination laws in states like New Jersey.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) includes “affectional or sexual orientation,” “sex,” and “gender identity or expression” in its list of protected categories. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). The law defines “affectional or sexual orientation” as a person’s actual, perceived, or presumed orientation with regard to “affectional, emotional or physical attraction or behavior” towards members of the opposite gender, one’s own gender, or either gender. Id. at § 10:5-5(hh) – (kk). “Gender identity or expression” refers to a person’s actual or perceived identity or mode of expression that might not be “stereotypically associated with a person’s assigned sex at birth.” Id. at § 10:5-5(rr). This may include people who identify with a different gender than the one assigned at birth, or people who identify as non-binary.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, at least officially. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that the statute’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes prohibitions on both additional forms of discrimination. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion regarding sexual orientation in 2017, followed by the Second Circuit in 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of the Second Circuit’s ruling, alongside the appeal in an Eleventh Circuit case that reached the opposite conclusion. It will also hear the appeal of a Sixth Circuit decision applying Title VII to a gender identity discrimination claim.
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The Resnick Law Group recently represented a teacher in a disability discrimination case at the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, and obtained a reversal of a lower court order dismissing the case. The teacher alleges that her employer’s failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for her disability caused her to suffer injury when she collapsed at work. One of the questions before the court involved whether she could assert a cause of action for disability discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) without evidence of an “adverse employment action.” The court held that she could.

The NJLAD prohibits discrimination on the basis of actual, perceived, or past disabilities. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a), N.J.A.C. § 13:13-1.3. This includes a requirement that employers provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with disabilities, which would allow them to perform the functions of their jobs. The plaintiff taught science at a middle school in the defendant’s school district. She had Type 1 diabetes, which means that she must eat on a rather strict schedule to prevent her blood sugar from getting too low. The defendant denied requests to modify her class schedule so she could always have an early lunch period. She alleges that, as a result, she suffered a hypoglycemic episode in front of her students. She fell and hit her face and head on a table and the floor. After a successful claim for workers’ compensation, she filed suit under the NJLAD.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s NJLAD failure to accommodate claim, finding that she had failed to establish an adverse employment action. The Appellate Division identified three questions it had to address:
1. Does a plaintiff alleging failure to accommodate a disability have to establish an adverse employment action in order to avoid summary judgment dismissal?
2. If not, is a bodily injury claim brought under the NJLAD barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA)?
3. If the case were to proceed, should any recovery be offset by workers’ compensation payments?
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The Resnick Law Group recently won a notable victory for New Jersey employees related to a failure to accommodate an employee’s disability. This post discusses the legal background of the case, while a subsequent post will cover the court’s opinion. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, among many other factors. This includes terminating or refusing to hire a person because they have a disability, Under rules found in the New Jersey Administrative Code, disability discrimination also includes refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability. One of our attorneys recently argued a case before the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, on behalf of an employee who was denied an accommodation for a chronic illness. After the defendant allegedly denied the employee’s request for an accommodation, she collapsed at work and suffered injuries. The appeal involved questions of whether a failure to accommodate claim under the NJLAD could proceed without evidence of an “adverse employment action,” and whether state workers’ compensation law barred her bodily injury claims. In early June 2019, the Appellate Division ruled that the employee’s lawsuit could move forward.

The term “disability” has a very broad definition under the NJLAD. In additional to various injuries and congenital conditions, it includes “physical…infirmity,…which is caused by…illness.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-5(q). State regulations adopt this definition, but also add the perception or belief that a person has a disability, regardless of whether they actually do, and a history of “ha[ving] been a person with a disability at any time.” N.J.A.C. § 13:13-1.3.

The statute requires employers to “make a reasonable accommodation to the limitations of an employee…who is a person with a disability.” Id. at § 13:13-2.5(b). The employee in the Appellate Division case referenced above has Type 1 diabetes and needs accommodations in the daily work schedule to manage their blood sugar. State regulations include “modified work schedules” among the accommodations employers must consider for employees with disabilities. Id. An employer can avoid the obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation only if they “can demonstrate that [it] would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.” Id.
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The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division has revived a lawsuit alleging employment discrimination on the basis of gender under state and federal laws. The plaintiffs allege that a set of “personal appearance standards” (PAS) maintained by their employer, an Atlantic City casino, discriminated on the basis of gender. They further claim that the defendant enforced the PAS in a harassing manner. The case has followed an unusual path. In 2015, the Appellate Division partially reversed a Law Division order granting summary judgment to the defendant. The Law Division proceeded to grant summary judgment to the defendant again in July 2016. The Appellate Division reversed the Law Division’s order in May 2019. It found that the Law Division was bound by the 2015 ruling and that the court erred by dismissing the case on remand. The appellate court remanded the case once more, ruling that “after a decade of motion practice and appeals, plaintiffs are entitled to their day in court.”

State and federal employment statutes in New Jersey prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sex and gender. Court decisions and statutes have defined multiple forms of unlawful sex discrimination. These include “hostile work environment,” a form of sexual harassment in which pervasive and unwelcome sexual remarks or behavior render an employee unable to perform their job duties. Discrimination on the basis of “sex stereotyping,” in which an employer takes an adverse action against an employee because they do not fit certain stereotypes about members of their sex, is also unlawful. In some situations, employees can establish violations of anti-discrimination laws based on the disparate impact of a policy or practice, even if the employer did not intend to discriminate on the basis of sex or another factor.

The plaintiffs in the above-described lawsuit worked as “costumed beverage servers.” They had to agree to the PAS as a condition of employment. The PAS mandated specific features like “a natural hourglass shape” for women and “a natural ‘V’ shape with broad shoulders and a slim waist” for men. The defendant reportedly modified the PAS in February 2005 in order “to elucidate the ‘weight proportioned to height’ standard.” The revised PAS stated that employees’ weight could not increase by more than seven percent, as compared to their weight when they were hired. Weigh-ins occurred at seemingly random times. These changes formed the basis of many of the complaints leading to the lawsuit.
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The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) bars employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of factors like age, race, sex, and disability. This includes terminating an employee, refusing to hire a job applicant, demoting or declining to promote an employee, and many other decisions involving employment benefits and conditions. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled (the “Opinion”) that a woman’s claims for age and disability discrimination can move forward, finding that she had raised sufficient questions of fact about the defendant’s claimed reasons for terminating her employment.

The NJLAD prohibits discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, including age and disability. In the Opinion, the court reviewed the process for a claim under the NJLAD. A plaintiff must establish four elements: (1) they are part of a protected class and (2) are qualified for the position they held; and (3) the employer took an adverse employment action and (4) replaced the plaintiff with someone who is not part of the protected class. The burden of proof then shifts to the defendant to “articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the adverse action. Finally, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s alleged reason was pretextual, meaning that it was merely cover for a discriminatory purpose.

Reportedly, the defendant terminated the plaintiff shortly after she underwent gallbladder surgery. She was fifty years old at the time and had recently received “a ‘strong performance’ evaluation” from the defendant. She alleged that the defendant replaced her with “a person nearly half her age.” The reason given by the defendant for the termination involved a claim that she “attempted to defraud [the defendant] by failing to take steps to remove her ex-husband from the company’s health insurance plan.”
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When an employee begins working for an employer, they are often required to sign an employment agreement that establishes numerous features of the employer-employee relationship. Most provisions involve standard matters like job expectations, wages, and termination of the employment relationship. Employment agreements may also include provisions for nondisclosure of various types of information, as well as waivers of certain rights. When employers and employees enter into settlement agreements to resolve disputes, an employer may seek a nondisclosure clause as well. Provisions like these may hinder individuals’ ability to assert their rights under employment statutes like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). At least partly in response to increased attention on sexual harassment in the workplace, the New Jersey Legislature enacted a bill in January 2019 that amends the NJLAD to prohibit enforcement of certain nondisclosure agreements, as well as waivers of rights under the NJLAD or similar statutes.

The NJLAD prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and many other factors. Courts have held that prohibitions on sex discrimination in the NJLAD and other laws cover sexual harassment, as well as harassment based on other protected factors. Unlawful harassment generally includes two scenarios: (1) acquiescence to or tolerance of harassing behavior, including sexual advances, is made a condition of employment; and (2) pervasive and unwelcome harassing behavior creates a hostile work environment that interferes with an individual’s ability to perform their job duties.

The #MeToo movement has allowed people all over the country to come forward with their own experiences, when many of them might have been afraid to do so before. Nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) in discrimination and harassment cases may prevent people with similar experiences from sharing their stories. Last year, California and New York enacted limits on NDAs in situations involving alleged sexual harassment. California now prohibits NDAs that purport to “prevent[] the disclosure of factual information related to a” lawsuit or administrative complaint alleging sexual harassment. New York now has similar provisions in its laws barring NDAs in settlements and other resolutions of sexual harassment disputes.
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New Jersey is among the more than half of all U.S. states that allows the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes, under the supervision of a physician. Recreational use is still prohibited by state law, and federal law still prohibits possession and use for any purpose. Conflicts among various laws have led to much confusion. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division recently ruled on how this state’s marijuana laws affect employment discrimination laws. The court reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by an individual whose cancer treatment plan included a medical marijuana prescription. The plaintiff alleged that his former employer fired him in violation of state laws prohibiting disability discrimination. Published Decision (the “Decision”).

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of factors like race, religion, sex, and disability. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). It defines the term “disability” to include “physical disability [or] infirmity…which is caused by…illness.” Id. at § 10:5-5(q). This includes many the physical and other symptoms caused by many forms of cancer.

A plaintiff alleging disability discrimination under the NJLAD must prove four elements:
1. The employee had a disability, or the employer perceived the employee as having a disability;
2. The employee was still qualified to perform, and was still performing, “the essential functions of the job”;
3. The employee suffered “an adverse employment action” because of the actual or perceived disability; and
4. The employer “sought a similarly qualified individual” to replace the employee.
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