Articles Posted in Harassment

A federal lawsuit accuses a New York business of firing the plaintiff in retaliation for his report of unlawful employment practices. Giraldo v. The Change Group New York, Inc., et al, No. 1:14-cv-00375, complaint (S.D.N.Y., Jan. 21, 2014). The plaintiff, who is a gay man, also alleges that he was subjected to ongoing sexual harassment, discrimination, and a hostile work environment based on sexual orientation. The lawsuit asserts causes of action for retaliation, discrimination, and harassment in violation of federal, state, and city law.

The plaintiff was employed as a sales consultant by a currency exchange group in Manhattan from December 2012 until November 2013. He alleges multiple instances of harassment by two managers in the office, including inappropriate comments about his sexual orientation. One of the managers allegedly displayed similar behavior towards female employees and customers on a regular basis. The plaintiff claimed that he also frequently made “ethnically and racially discriminatory comments towards African American employees,” Muslim employees, and the plaintiff, who is Hispanic of Colombian descent.

In a seemingly-anonymous email sent to company executives just after midnight on October 8, 2013, the plaintiff complained about the two managers’ allegedly widespread discrimination and harassment. He identified multiple specific instances of inappropriate sexual and racial comments directed to the plaintiff, and inappropriate comments and behavior directed at others. He also noted his concern that speaking out publicly would cost him his job, as people who expressed dissenting opinions were often “squashed or treated as heretics” by the managers. He specifically stated that if he attached his name to the email, he believed he would be fired.
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A lawsuit filed in a New Jersey Superior Court against a police department and several police officials seeks over $1 million in damages for alleged race discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. The plaintiff in Cruz v. Old Bridge Police Department, et al alleges that the department ignored her repeated complaints of sexual harassment because of her race, and then subjected her to retaliation and a hostile work environment that prevented her from returning to work. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects workers from employment discrimination based on factors like race and sex, and includes sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination.

The plaintiff, according to local news coverage, was hired in May 2004 as an auxiliary police officer for the Old Bridge Police Department. This is a part-time position that works certain events, assisting the police department by providing crowd and traffic control. She alleges that a lieutenant began sexually harassing her shortly after she was divorced by asking her questions and making comments of an inappropriate sexual nature, and with direct sexual advances. She asserts that she asked him to stop and reported the matter to the department’s Internal Affairs unit, but the harassment continued.

When the lieutenant was promoted to captain, he became the plaintiff’s direct supervisor. She claims that he created a hostile work environment by “ostraciz[ing] here” and behaving in a “disrespectful and…demeaning manner.” The department ignored her complaints, she claims, because she is a black Hispanic woman. She received a charge of “conduct unbecoming” that she claims was false, and in September 2011 she was suspended without pay for allegedly submitting false time records in order to increase her pay. She also denies this charge. The department did not fire her, but reportedly also did not set an end date for her suspension. The township listed her employment status as “did not return,” according to the Home News Tribune. She either quit or was terminated by the department in December 2011.
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A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a construction worker in a sexual harassment lawsuit. In EEOC v. Boh Bros. Construction Co., the nation’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Louisiana man who claims he was subjected to verbal and physical harassment by a male work supervisor because he does not conform to the man’s gender stereotypes.

The employee was initially hired by Boh Bros. Construction Co. to perform welding and iron repair work on a Louisiana bridge following Hurricane Katrina. He was later transferred to a bridge maintenance crew consisting of about six men and one supervisor. According to the record presented at trial, the supervisor regularly used vulgar language at work. A few months after his transfer, the supervisor began calling the employee names, questioning his masculinity, and performing harassing acts that “embarrassed and humiliated” him.

After the employee complained about the supervisor’s behavior, he was transferred to another work crew. Later, the supervisor learned that the employee violated a company policy and told him to meet with the general supervisor. The employee again complained about the harassment and was sent home without pay. The employee claims there was no discussion of the policy violation. The general supervisor apparently performed a perfunctory investigation of the harassment allegations and determined they were without merit. Two days later, the employee was told to report to work. A few months after he filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, he was laid off for lack of work.
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In early August, an arbitrator awarded a former Long Branch School District worker $4.5 million. In a 2011 civil complaint filed against the school district and prior Superintendent Joseph Ferraina, the former secretary alleged that she was sexually assaulted by and forced to perform sex acts for Ferraina beginning in 2004. The woman also stated Ferraina threatened her with termination if she reported the abuse. According to the former secretary, the school board ignored her complaints regarding the allegedly hostile work environment and instead engaged in a cover-up. Eventually, the woman apparently suffered a nervous breakdown. Ferraina retired from his position at the end of June.

Following a non-binding arbitral hearing, a former Monmouth County judge who acted as arbitrator in the case found in favor of the former secretary. Still, either side of the case may disagree with the arbitrator’s recommendation and file a “trial de novo” before 30 days pass. By doing so, the non-binding arbitral decision would be rendered moot.

As this case shows, one type of sexual harassment is quid pro quo sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment may arise when a supervisor conditions a worker’s employment upon his or her submission to sexual advances or demands. As allegedly occurred here, an employee may have a claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment if a supervisor makes him or her feel as if sexual advances must be tolerated in order to keep a job, obtain a raise, be promoted, or to avoid discipline, a demotion, or other negative work-related consequences.
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In August, an undisclosed settlement was reached in a highly publicized sexual harassment and race discrimination case. According to a document filed in a Savannah, Georgia federal court, both sides agreed to settle a lawsuit that was filed against celebrity television cook Paula Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers. The case was brought by a former manager at Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House. The woman’s complaint alleged that the restaurant’s employment practices treated black workers unfairly. She also claimed that she endured sexual harassment from Hiers and was forced to listen to racially offensive statements at work. Before a settlement was reached, a federal judge threw out the white woman’s race discrimination claims for lack of standing.

A nationwide uproar against Deen began after she apparently admitted to making racially derogatory statements during a deposition related to the case. As a result, the celebrity’s television show was cancelled and a number of retailers reportedly dropped her numerous product lines. Prior to the lawsuit, the Paula Deen franchise was reportedly worth millions. At the request of the parties, the case was dismissed with prejudice.

In New York, New Jersey, and across the rest of the country, employers are not legally required to treat all of their workers fairly. For example, an employer may engage in nepotism, favoritism, or simple “office politics.” An employee who is treated unfairly may seek legal action only if the discrimination resulted from his or her gender, race, age, religion, pregnancy status, a mental or physical disability, color, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran or military status, or another legally protected status.
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Major League Baseball (MLB) recently issued new harassment and discrimination policies to every major and minor league baseball player employed by a member of the league. According to a new agreement, the organization will provide training sessions for employees and a central complaint system that was created to prevent and combat sexual orientation discrimination and harassment. Despite that the MLB already has an anti-discrimination policy in place, Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura stated the new code of conduct was designed to ensure that all players fully understand any harassment or discrimination based on a player’s sexual orientation is unacceptable. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig added that the league will not tolerate sexual orientation harassment on or off of the playing field.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reportedly assisted in drafting the new harassment and discrimination policy. Earlier this year, Schneiderman also assisted the National Football League with drafting a similar code of conduct after questions purportedly arose at the NFL combine. According to Schneiderman, both policies constitute a “clear stand against discrimination.” The Major League Baseball Players Association has also expressed its support for the new policy.

Although the new MLB policy only affects professional baseball players, all employers in New Jersey are prohibited from discriminating against current or potential workers who are members of a protected class. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) also prohibits discrimination in any job-related action on the basis of any of the law’s protected categories. LAD protected categories include race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex, pregnancy status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental or physical disability, and more. In addition, employers in New Jersey may not engage in retaliation after a worker makes a good faith complaint about alleged discrimination or harassment. Individuals who suffered workplace discrimination in New Jersey may choose to file a formal complaint with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights within 180 days of the incident or file a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court. A quality New Jersey employment attorney can explain the process in greater detail.
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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a discrimination lawsuit in New Jersey against State Police on behalf of the Latino Leadership Alliance. The group is seeking access and information regarding promotion policies, The Inquirer reported.

The chairman of the group, which describes itself as a coalition of community organizations, says he is a former police officer looking to ensure that there is no “disparate treatment of minorities,” according to the lawsuit.State police denied a state Open Public Records Request last month, saying the request was “improper and overbroad.” The ACLU asserts police are permitted to keep individual employment records private but not general employment policies.

The ACLU is accusing state police of a culture of secrecy, saying it’s the third public records request the agency has denied in recent months. For their part, state police are pointing to a recently adopted rule by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which permits police to withhold “standard operating procedures” from public view. The new regulation was first adopted in December 2011; the Attorney General’s Office had previously said the rules would not be used to exempt general polices and procedures.

Yet it’s been used to deny this request by the Latino Leadership Alliance, which wanted to know if promotion policies favored one ethnic or racial group over another.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate in employment matters on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national orientation. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics from 1997 to 2011 show charges filed under Title VII alleging race discrimination in the workplace have risen from 762 in 1997 to nearly 3,000 last year. Race-based charges have increased from 29,199 in 1997 to more than 35,000 last year.

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits employment discrimination in any job-related action — including hiring and promotion — on the basis of any of the law’s protected categories. Protected categories are: race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment), marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information liability for military service, or mental or physical disability, including AIDS and HIV related illnesses.

Such discrimination is also forbidden in setting salary and benefits, making job assignments, in disciplinary actions and when reducing the workforce or otherwise conducting layoffs or terminations.

The law also protects employees from retaliation in the wake of making a good faith complaint about discrimination or harassment. Avenues for remedy include filing a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights (which must be done with 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination) or pursuing a case through New Jersey Superior Court, typically with the assistance of an experienced New Jersey employment lawyer.
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They say knowledge is power. We, as experienced NJ employment attorneys, certainly agree.

To that end, eBossWatch, an organization that allows employees to monitor bosses, used Boss’ Day this year to release a study on workplace harassment and discrimination, and the common charges that are costing employers millions. During the last 12 months, such suits have resulted in more than $356 million in payouts and judgments, according to the Insurance Journal.The most common violation leading to sizable settlement or jury award: Sexual Harassment. Passaic County, New Jersey had the 12th largest payout: $3.7 million in an age discrimination judgment. A $25 million race discrimination lawsuit in Buffalo placed second on the list.

Mercy Hospital took the dubious honors of paying the highest award: $168 million in Sacramento for a sexual harassment lawsuit judgment. Companies in Chicago reported 3 of the 7 highest payouts. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prevents discrimination based on the protected statuses of race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment), marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information liability for military service, or mental or physical disability, including AIDS and HIV related illnesses.

But the vast majority of employment lawsuits in New Jersey involve sexual harassment or discrimination based on age, sex or race. The same holds true when looking at statistics nationwide: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported 1,841 cases in New Jersey last year.

-624 sex-based employment lawsuits in New Jersey
-457 race-based cases
-306 national origin
-89 religion
Of course, as the law states above, there are many other protections that may result in an unemployment lawsuit. Last year, New Jersey passed a law banning discrimination against the unemployed. However, sexual harassment remains the most commonly filed.

As we reported recently, New Jersey has paid millions to settle sexual harassment claims against state employers, including many supervisors who remain on the job. In fact, nearly $4 million has been paid to settle 27 sexual-harassment lawsuits in recent years.

New Jersey also just passed the Equal Pay Act, which is meant to address some of the gender inequality remaining in the workplace. Signed Sept. 21, the law requires employers to provide workers with a written copy of such rights. Simply posting those rights will no longer be considered sufficient.

What this means, for women in the workforce in particular, is that vigilance can ensure that you are being paid and treated fairly in the workforce. While we’ve come a long way in promoting equal pay for equal work, there is much work yet to be done. And those who are treated unfairly in the workforce based on gender should seek an experienced employment law attorney in Roseland or elsewhere to help protect their rights.
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Sexual harassment lawsuits, filed by NJ sexual harassment lawyers on behalf of state workers, against state agencies is costing New Jersey millions, yet many of the offenders remain on the job or have retired with lucrative pensions, according to an investigation by the Asbury Park Press.

A cadet at the state’s corrections officer academy said she was subjected to offensive obscenities, inappropriate touching my male instructors, sex and gender discrimination and on-the-job retaliation in the wake of complaints to superiors. Fed up, she sued in 2005 and agreed to settle the case last year for $415,000. She now works as a senior corrections officer at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.Despite millions in settlements, most agencies refuse to discuss the issue — citing either ongoing litigation or private personnel issues not subject to disclosure. However, the newspaper’s investigation found many state employees or supervisors who have been named in the lawsuits either continue to work for the state or have retired with generous pensions. Many of the employee complaints allege the harassment has been occurring for years, according to the Park Press.

Whether in the private or public sector, failure to adequately deal with employees who violate sexual harassment policy ensures that the company remains exposed to such lawsuits and that employees remain exposed to unlawful conduct in the workplace.

The New Jersey Civil Service Commission reports nearly 1,000 state employees have filed sexual harassment lawsuits in the last 5 years. In recent years, 27 lawsuits have been settled for a total of $3.9 million. The average settlement is $145,000. In fact, the number of sexual harassment complaints in New Jersey has increased by 10 percent since 2006, even as the number of complaints nationwide has dropped by 5.5 percent.

The State of New Jersey has had a sexual harassment policy on the books since 1993 and all of the state’s 74,000 employees are required to take training courses aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment which creates a hostile work environment is when an employee endures sexually abusive or offensive behavior and does not have to include physical contact. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when an employer demands sexual favors as a condition of continued employment or advancement.

A total of 78 complaints involving state workers have been filed this year through Sept. 12.

Ironically, most of the settlements involved state agencies entrusted with enforcing the law. The State Department of Law and Public Safety was responsible for more than $1 million in settlements — the highest dollar amount of any agency. Other agencies included state courts, the Juvenile Intensive Supervision Program and the Department of Corrections.

A spokesman for the state Attorney General said state agencies thoroughly investigate complaints and that disciplinary action can include reprimand, demotion, suspension or termination.
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A former Ph.D student and staff associate at Columbia University filed a lawsuit claiming the school mishandled his complaint of sexual harassment by the student’s lab supervisor, and then wrongfully terminated the victim.

Unfortunately, firing a victim is not an uncommon result when an employee alleges a violation of workplace rights. New York City employment attorneys also know that sexual harassment is common in the university environment and may involve professors, staff or students.The plaintiff arrived from Chile last March to pursue his Ph.D. while working at the University. But, over the course of about three months, he contends he was sexually harassed by his supervisor, ignored by a university human resources officer, and ultimately fired from his dream job.

Typically, a supervisor-employee relationship is exploited in cases of sexual harassment. The university setting, as well as internship positions, can be ripe for such abuse because students want to please superiors and to excel. In this case the 25-year-old victim, who worked at the University while pursuing his Ph.D., contends in his lawsuit that he suffered retaliation after he complained of being sexually harassed by his supervisor, a professor of medicine, nephrology and hypertension at the Columbia University Medical Center.

According to the lawsuit, the victim had been at the university just a few days when he received a cell phone solicitation about dating older gay or bisexual men. The complaint charges that the supervisor sent the plaintiff messages via a social network, with the supervisor’s picture attached, asking the plaintiff “if he would like to date an older man.” After rejecting his supervisor’s online sexual advance, the lawsuit maintains, the plaintiff’s supervisor allegedly “came out of his office, approached Plaintiff….and screamed at him, ‘You are out!'”

The victim reported the harassment to another supervisor, who allegedly promised to talk with Columbia’s Chair of the Department of Medicine, and directed the plaintiff to human resources, according to the lawsuit. The victim contends that the university’s human resources representative offered to help file a formal complaint with Columbia’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, which is charged with investigating allegations of harassment or discrimination against university faculty and staff. He said the supervisor later apologized for the ongoing behavior, gave him an expensive computer, and allegedly told him to “pretend that nothing happened.”

In June, the lawsuit maintains, the Ph.D student was subsequently fired without notice or explanation, according to the allegations contained in the lawsuit. The university has declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

These cases are often a victim’s word against a superior’s. Any evidence or documentation of such behavior can go a long way toward proving a victim’s claim. In this case, the Columbia Spectator (the university’s student newspaper) reports that it reviewed detailed evidence gathered by the victim, including e-mails and text messages.

A law firm experienced in workplace harassment litigation will also review an employer or university’s track record of past allegations and its response to employment discrimination and workplace harassment complaints.

While still relatively rare, an increasing number of cases involving male-on-male sexual harassment are being reported. In fact, more than 16 percent of sexual harassment cases were filed by men in 2011, compared to 11.6 percent in 1997, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Both state and federal employment laws prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee for making a complaint. In 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided in Carmona v. Resorts International Hotel, Inc. that in order to be protected under the law a victim must have an underlying complaint of discrimination that is reasonable and made in good faith.

In this case, the victim will apparently be forced to return to Chile because of a lack of funds because Columbia terminated his employment after he complainted about being sexually harassed. In general, it is a good idea for those who believe they are being harassed or discriminated against at work to seek the advice of an experienced employment law firm in New York or New Jersey at the earliest stages of such cases. Very frequently the culture in institutions where this behavior is allowed to thrive is such that significant legal protection — either before or after lodging a complaint — is not likely without the help of an experienced law firm.
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