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Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

Employers may include provisions in employment contracts or settlement agreements that limit employees’ ability to discuss issues like sexual harassment with others. When a settlement agreement contains this kind of provision, it may mean that the public cannot learn about the employee’s experience in the workplace. Other employees could be at risk of the same kind of experience if the employer took no action against the individual — or individuals — whose conduct led to the complaint and settlement. The New Jersey Legislature passed a law in 2019 that prohibits the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in connection with claims involving employment discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. A bill now pending in the New Jersey Senate would also prohibit non-disparagement clauses or agreements in those situations. If you have concerns about non-disclosure agreements involving a workplace matter, reach out to a New Jersey employment lawyer to get legal advice.

Businesses often use NDAs as a way to protect trade secrets and other proprietary information. An employment contract might include an NDA that protects information that could be of great interest or value to the employer’s competitors. Employers have also used NDAs to protect other kinds of information besides trade secrets, such as information that could be embarrassing.

News reports have identified numerous cases in which sexual harassment settlements included NDAs. Under this kind of NDA, one of the conditions for receiving a settlement payment is a promise by the complainant never to disclose the circumstances of the sexual harassment claims. The effect of this kind of NDA has been to keep important safety information away from the public. New Jersey passed a law in 2019 barring NDAs in employment contracts and settlement agreements as they might pertain to any “claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.”
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Courts in New Jersey and all over the country encourage parties involved in disputes to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures in order to keep dockets from getting excessively backlogged and free up court resources. Mandatory arbitration clauses are increasingly common in employment contracts. Many employees, as well as their legal advocates, dispute whether these clauses are truly voluntary since employees are often not in a position to negotiate those terms. They also maintain that arbitration tends to favor employers for various reasons. A new law, signed by the president in March 2022, amends the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) to prohibit the enforcement of mandatory arbitration clauses when employees claim sexual harassment.

Arbitration is a form of ADR in which the parties to a lawsuit present their cases to a neutral third party. That person, known as an arbitrator, presides over a proceeding that resembles a trial in many ways. Data generally support the perception that arbitration favors employers. One possible reason for this is because, while an employee might only encounter an arbitrator once, their employer might have seen that arbitrator many times in other employment disputes. An arbitrator may feel pressure not to alienate a source of consistent business.

If all of the parties to a dispute agreed in advance that the arbitrator’s decision would be binding, the FAA protects the decision from judicial review. A party to the arbitration may petition a court to enforce the award. If the other party tries to challenge the validity of the award, however, the court may not vacate or modify it without evidence of fraud, duress, or misconduct by the arbitrator. This type of mandatory arbitration effectively shuts employees out of the court system.
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The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) provides a wide range of protections for employees and job seekers. It prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of factors like race, sex, religion, disability, and more. It also addresses retaliation against employees who report alleged discrimination or harassment, either within the company or to a government agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A lawsuit filed in a New Jersey court in the fall of 2021 alleges, in part, that the plaintiff’s employer unlawfully retaliated against her because she reported an incident of alleged sexual harassment. If you are facing retaliation for reporting harassment, please reach out to a New Jersey employment lawyer at your earliest convenience.

The NJLAD and other employment laws view sexual harassment as a type of sex discrimination. When one or more people in the workplace engage in harassment based on sex, such as by making bawdy jokes or inappropriate sexual comments, their conduct could violate the law. Harassment creates an unlawful hostile work environment, according to the EEOC, when it is “severe or pervasive enough…that a reasonable person would consider [it] intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” In order for an employer to be liable for sexual harassment, they must have been aware of the problem and failed to address it.

The EEOC notes that “petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents” might not “rise to the level of illegality.” A single incident can support a hostile work environment claim, but it must be quite severe. Many small incidents, on the other hand, can create a hostile work environment over time. Reporting concerns about workplace harassment is therefore very important and protected by the NJLAD.
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Unwelcome sexual remarks in the workplace can violate employment statutes in New Jersey that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. This kind of conduct becomes unlawful sexual harassment when it is so severe or pervasive that an objective observer would find it to be a hostile work environment. An employer may be liable for damages under laws like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) when management is aware of the harassment but does not take reasonable steps to correct the situation. A lawsuit filed in September 2021 in a New Jersey state court alleges sexual harassment by several executives and others at a mortgage lender. If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, you would be wise to consult with a New Jersey employment attorney as soon as possible.

The NJLAD prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, gender, and numerous other factors. Harassment on the basis of any protected category could violate the law, such as harassment of an employee because of their religion or religious attire. Sexual harassment is particularly insidious in workplaces around the country. The U.S. Supreme Court first recognized sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination under federal law in a 1986 decision, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.

The Meritor decision addressed “unwelcome sexual advances that create an offensive or hostile working environment,” and found that a plaintiff does not have to prove direct economic losses, such as a demotion or cut in pay, to establish that discrimination occurred. The impact of enduring a hostile work environment can be enough, the court held. The New Jersey Supreme Court adopted the Meritor ruling in a 1993 decision addressing a hostile work environment claim under the NJLAD.
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Sexual harassment is a serious problem in workplaces throughout New Jersey and the country. New Jersey law views it as a form of sex discrimination. While perhaps the most common image of New Jersey workplace sexual harassment involves a male supervisor or manager acting offensively towards a female employee, it can occur between people of any gender. A pair of lawsuits filed in a New Jersey Superior Court earlier this summer allege same-sex sexual harassment. The plaintiffs are male police officers. They both claim that their supervisor, a male police lieutenant, subjected them to ongoing sexual harassment.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, and multiple other factors. Numerous court decisions have held that sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination under the NJLAD and other statutes in several situations. One of these, known as “hostile work environment,” occurs when an employee faces unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace, which is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with their ability to do their job.

The first court cases to recognize sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination involved male supervisors harassing female employees. In a 1998 decision, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that male-on-male sexual harassment can also violate employment discrimination laws. The case involved a worker on an offshore oil drilling rig who faced repeated acts of humiliation by his coworkers, ranging from mockery about his perceived sexual orientation to outright assault. A unanimous court held that “harassing conduct” based on sex could violate the law even if it was not “motivated by sexual desire.”
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New Jersey employment discrimination law prohibits sexual harassment in almost every workplace in the state, but it still remains a serious problem. Lawmakers in Trenton introduced a bill at the beginning of 2021 that sought to address sexual harassment in political campaigns. After several revisions and amendments, the New Jersey Senate passed the bill in June 2021. A companion bill, introduced in the Assembly in February 2021, is still awaiting a committee hearing.

Sexual harassment is viewed under state and federal law as a form of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. Court decisions interpreting statutes like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have identified two broad categories of actionable sexual harassment:
– “Quid pro quo sexual harassment” occurs when a person must submit to some sort of sexual demand as a condition of employment, such as a manager who hands out favorable shift assignments or other perks to employees who agree to sexual activity.
– “Hostile work environment” involves unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace, which is pervasive or severe enough that a reasonable person would find it to be hostile and incompatible with a safe workplace.

Both statutes also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who oppose or report unlawful practices. While these laws protect a wide range of workers, sexual harassment in the political realm can be complicated. Title VII excludes the federal government itself from liability for discrimination and harassment, but other statutes allow claims against government employees, and even elected officials. See, e.g. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b)(1), 2 U.S.C. § 1311. The NJLAD, on the other hand, includes “the State…and all public officers” in its definition of “employer.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10-5:5(e).
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Employment discrimination or harassment claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination usually involve actions by specific employees, supervisors, managers, or executives. In order to make a successful New Jersey employment discrimination claim, a plaintiff must establish that the employer is legally responsible for the actions of that person or those people. This is known as “vicarious liability.” The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled in favor of a plaintiff in her hostile work environment lawsuit, reversing the trial court’s summary judgment for the defendant. The appellate court held that the plaintiff had raised a question as to whether her alleged harasser had acted within his authority as a supervisor when he told the plaintiff to “leave and don’t come back.”

Hostile work environment is a type of sexual harassment that occurs when one or more people engage in unwelcome sexual conduct to the point that a reasonable person would consider it to render the workplace hostile. An employer can be held vicariously liable for a hostile work environment perpetrated by any employee, even if they do not have authority over the plaintiff, as long as the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to act.

The New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2015 that defined a rule for determining whether vicarious liability should apply to an employer in sexual harassment and similar claims, when the alleged harasser was in a position of authority over the plaintiff. It based this rule on the Ellerth/Faragher analysis, named after two Supreme Court rulings from 1998, Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. Boca Raton. The Ellerth/Faragher analysis states that a defendant can avoid vicarious liability if it can establish three elements:
1. It “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior”;
2. The plaintiff “unreasonably failed to take advantage of” the remedies offered by the employer; and
3. The plaintiff was not subject to any “tangible employment action” by the alleged harasser.
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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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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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Litigation is perhaps the most well-known method of dealing with legal disputes, but it is not the only method. Our legal system increasingly encourages would-be litigants to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before, or instead of, going to court. Many contracts now include clauses requiring the parties to submit disputes to arbitration. While arbitration may offer some benefits over the court system, it is subject to numerous criticisms in disputes involving a significant imbalance of power and resources. If you have questions of this nature, contact a New Jersey employment attorney without delay.

Court decisions interpreting New Jersey’s employment antidiscrimination statute have invalidated provisions of arbitration agreements that infringe on statutory rights. Federal law, on the other hand, favors arbitration over litigation in most cases. Several major technology companies, employing thousands of people, recently dropped mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims, which may allow more claims to see the light of day.

Statutes like Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, and include sexual harassment as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. In order to assert a claim under these statutes, an individual must first file a complaint with a state or federal agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The agency will investigate the claim, and if it determines the claim to have merit, it will issue a “right to sue” letter. This allows the complainant to file suit in state or federal court. Arbitration clauses in employment contracts prevent employees from accessing this process.

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