How Religion, Race, and National Origin Can Intersect in New Jersey Employment Discrimination Cases

New Jersey employment law protects workers from discrimination on the basis of numerous factors, such as race, religion, sex, disability, and national origin, to name only a few. In some cases, an employer’s unlawful actions clearly violate someone’s legal rights based on one of the protected categories identified in state and federal law. The categories can blur together in other cases, though. This can create confusion. It can also lead people to overlook claims that they might have under state and federal antidiscrimination laws. Some types of bias and discrimination can span multiple categories, including race, color, religion, and national origin. New Jersey employees should be aware of their rights when it comes to these types of issues.

Both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964 specifically identify race, color, religion, and national origin as protected categories. This means that employers may not take adverse actions against employees or job applicants on the basis of any of these factors. This includes refusing to hire someone, demoting them, firing them, or denying them opportunities to advance their careers. Employers may have to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religion observances, as long as doing so does not create an undue burden.

Title VII does not provide definitions for the terms “race,” “color,” or “national origin.” It defines “religion” as including “​​all aspects of religious observance and practice.” The NJLAD does not define “religion,” “color,” or “national origin.” Its definition of race includes the common understanding of that term along with “traits historically associated with race,” such as hairstyles and types of hair.

Recent events in world news have shown how categories in New Jersey employment discrimination law can overlap. Antisemitism has long been a serious problem in U.S. workplaces. Prejudice and discrimination against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims has also been a significant issue. These types of discrimination can encompass multiple categories under the law. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed this in two decisions issued on the same day in 1987.

The decision in Saint Francis College v. al-Khazraji involved a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, not Title VII. Section 1981 originated as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which dealt with race discrimination. The plaintiff alleged that his employer discriminated against him because he was born in Iraq. The trial court dismissed his Title VII claims, which included national origin, race, and religious discrimination, but allowed his § 1981 claim to continue. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether or not the plaintiff could claim race discrimination based on his Arab heritage. The court ruled that he could.

Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb addressed a similar question involving a group of Jewish plaintiffs. They asserted a race discrimination claim under another section of the 1866 law, now found at 42 U.S.C. § 1982. The trial and appellate courts ruled that discrimination against Jewish people is not racial in nature. The Supreme Court, however, found in favor in the plaintiffs.

Employers might owe compensation to employees that they have harmed through violations of federal or state law. If an employer has violated your rights, you need the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable employment attorney. The Resnick Law Group represents New Jersey and New York workers in a wide range of employment claims. Please contact us today at 973-781-1204, 646-867-7997, or online to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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