Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under New Jersey employment law. It can range from unwelcome workplace behavior, such as sexually-charged jokes or comments, to outright sexual advances or worse. Federal and state laws in New Jersey prohibit this type of conduct, as well as retaliation against workers who report alleged unlawful activity. They also allow employees to recover damages from their employers. In November 2022, a court in Camden County awarded $7 million in damages to a group of plaintiffs who alleged widespread sexual harassment in the dental office where they worked.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sex. This includes sexual harassment. Federal and state courts have identified two main types of sexual harassment:
– Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee or job applicant must submit to sexual demands in order to obtain an employment-related benefit or avoid a penalty. A hiring manager, for example, might tell a job applicant that the job is theirs, but only if they agree to sexual activity.
– A hostile work environment occurs when a workplace features recurring or severe sexual conduct. The harassment must be serious enough that it interferes with someone’s ability to do their job. It may come from anyone in the workplace, such as a supervisor, coworker, or customer.
Eight women filed suit against their employer, a dental practice with offices in several areas of New Jersey, in 2016. They alleged multiple violations of the NJLAD. The defendants include multiple business entities and individual owners, managers, and supervisors. In an amended complaint filed in 2020, the plaintiffs describe the dental offices as a “sexual harassment playground” for several managers. They allege an ongoing pattern of “unwelcome sexual advances and flirting,” “unwanted touching and groping,” and requirements that “certain female employees…submit to sexual advances and flirting as a condition of employment.”