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New Jersey Amends Protections Against Age Discrimination

Federal and state laws in New Jersey protect workers from discrimination on the basis of age, with some important limitations. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) sets a minimum age for workers, as well as a minimum number of employees before the statute covers an employer. Until recently, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) set a maximum age for protection from certain discriminatory acts based on age. A bill passed in late 2021 amends the NJLAD and other provisions of state law to expand the scope of age discrimination protection. It removed the maximum age and added new a new cause of action for employees. If you feel you have been discriminated against on the basis of your age, it would be worth your while to consult with a New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer at your earliest convenience.

Prior to late 2021, both the ADEA and the NJLAD set age limits for their provisions regarding age discrimination. The ADEA prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against people who are at least forty years old. A thirty-year-old individual fired because of their age, whether the employer considered them too young or too old, would therefore not be able to assert a cause of action. The statute also only applies to employers with twenty or more employees, so a fifty-year-old employee of a business with ten employees would also not have a claim under the ADEA.

The NJLAD, before its recent amendment, prohibited discrimination on the basis of age without regard to the total number of employees. It set no minimum age, so the hypothetical thirty-year-old worker would be able to make a claim. It set a maximum age, however, of seventy years. Specifically, it stated that the prohibition on age discrimination did not prevent employers “from refusing to accept for employment or to promote” a person over the age of seventy. This provided employers with a safe harbor for certain forms of age discrimination against older workers.

A separate provision of New Jersey law addresses forced retirement policies for many employers. It states that employers may not compel an employee to retire “upon the attainment of a particular age,” although this provision does not apply to various public employees. An employer covered by this provision could avoid liability if they can show that the age of mandatory retirement “bears a manifest relationship to the employment in question.” This provision did not, until recently, allow employees to bring a cause of action in court for violations. All they could do was file a complaint with the New Jersey Attorney General.

The New Jersey Assembly passed A681 in March 2021, and the Senate passed it in June. The governor signed it into law on October 5. The bill amends three sections of the New Jersey Revised Statutes.

First, the bill amends the provision regarding forced retirement ages. It removes the “manifest relationship” exception for retirement age policies.

The bill also amends the section of the NJLAD that limits relief for violations of the forced retirement statute to the Attorney General’s complaint process. Employees may still use that process, or they may opt to file a civil lawsuit. The bill expands the remedies available in such a claim to match those available in other employment discrimination claims.

Finally, the bill amends the section of the NJLAD that identifies unlawful employment practices. It removes the provision that created the exception for some forms of age discrimination affecting people older than seventy.

If you have questions about a dispute with an employer in New Jersey or New York, please contact the employment lawyers at the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation.

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