Despite a few recent setbacks in the U.S. Supreme Court, New Jersey continues to offer some of the most extensive protections against discrimination in the country. New Jersey’s employment laws, in particular, cover a wide range of protected categories. Employers may not discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of those factors. The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis that effectively allowed a private business to discriminate based on sexual orientation despite a state law prohibiting that practice. In response, the New Jersey Attorney General issued a statement affirming that the laws in this state “remain among the strongest in the nation” when it comes to providing protection “against bias and discrimination.” While the Supreme Court decision does not directly impact employment discrimination law, it is worth noting the protections that remain in place for LGBTQ+ people in New Jersey.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects a wide range of people from discrimination and other adverse treatment in the workplace. Its protections specifically extend to:
– Affectional or sexual orientation;
– Gender identity; and
– Gender expression.
The statute defines these terms with more specificity. “Affectional or sexual orientation,” for example, addresses how a person directs “affectional, emotional, or physical attraction or behavior” towards other people. “Gender identity or expression” refers to situations in which a person’s gender identity, or their expression thereof, does not necessarily align with stereotypes commonly associated with one’s sex.
Federal law does not expressly protect against discrimination based on any of the above categories. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only mentions five categories, including sex. Court decisions have found that the statute’s prohibition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” includes matters like sexual harassment.
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is discrimination based on sex. An employer that fires an employee because they are gay or lesbian, the court noted, would not fire a male employee because he is attracted to women or a female employee because she is attracted to men. The employee’s sex is therefore an indispensable part of the discriminatory act. A similar analysis applies to discrimination against transgender employees.
The Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in 303 Creative is about a state law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations, not employment. It has nevertheless led to concern about future impact on other aspects of anti-discrimination laws, including provisions dealing with employment discrimination.
The case addressed a narrow question that involved a business that provides creative services in the form of website design for weddings. The court’s 6-3 decision held that the First Amendment protects the business owner’s right to refuse to create a website for a same-sex wedding because of religious beliefs, despite a state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. While the decision rather narrowly addresses a question about “expressive designs,” a defendant in at least one employment discrimination has already tried to cite the decision to defend an alleged discriminatory act.
Employers that violate workers’ rights could be liable to them for damages. An experienced and knowledgeable employment lawyer can help you assert your rights to compensation if you have experienced unlawful discrimination or other acts prohibited by state or federal law. The Resnick Law Group represents workers in New Jersey and New York in a wide range of claims. Please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.