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Employment Lawsuit Claims Retaliation by New Jersey School District for Reporting Alleged Harassment

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.

An employer engages in unlawful retaliation under the NJLAD when they “take reprisals against any person because [they]…opposed any practices or acts forbidden under this act or…filed a complaint.” Even if a single harassing act might not rise to the level of unlawful sexual harassment, an employer can still violate the NJLAD if they retaliate against an employee who files a complaint about that incident.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned above worked as an athletic director at a New Jersey public high school. She alleges that the problems began in September 2020 when she attended a meeting with the football team’s coaching staff and the athletic trainer, all of whom are men. One of the coaches allegedly made a statement during the meeting that she found sexually harassing. She reported her concern to the affirmative action officer that day. An investigation resulted in a finding in the plaintiff’s favor and an apology from the coach. The plaintiff claims that the retaliation started once the investigation ended.

While the school superintendent allegedly told the plaintiff that her job was safe after she filed the complaint, the plaintiff claims that she faced “a retaliatory campaign of petty and unjustified complaints” from the coaches. The superintendent then allegedly began harshly criticizing her job performance, although she claims she had never had any complaints before that.

In December 2020, the plaintiff states that she learned that the superintendent was recommending the elimination of her position, supposedly for budgetary reasons. She asserts that this was a pretext. The board of education voted to eliminate her job that month. Within six months, the school had reportedly begun posting advertisements for the same job. It ultimately gave the job to the athletic trainer from the September 2020 meeting. The lawsuit asserts claims for discrimination and retaliation under the NJLAD.

The Resnick Law Group’s employment lawyers represent employees and job applicants in New Jersey and New York. Please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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