New Jersey Jury Awards $1 Million in National Origin Discrimination Lawsuit

Discrimination based on a person’s national origin violates New Jersey employment laws. This includes discrimination in decisions related to hiring, promotions, job duties, benefits, firing, and other features of employment. It also includes harassment based on national origin, such as when unwelcome remarks, jokes, slurs, or other conduct creates a hostile work environment. Employers may not retaliate against an employee who reports or opposes national origin discrimination in the workplace. A lawsuit went to trial earlier this year in which a plaintiff alleged national origin discrimination based on her accent. In early March, a jury in an Essex County Superior Court awarded her $1 million in damages.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employment discrimination based on numerous factors, including national origin, ancestry, race, and color. This includes both actual and perceived national origin, as well as stereotypes about one’s national origin. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal anti-discrimination law, states that the following may constitute unlawful national origin discrimination:
– Discrimination based on a person’s accent when their manner of speech does not interfere with their job;
– Language fluency requirements that are not reasonably related to the job; and
– English-only rules that are not necessary for workplace safety or efficiency.

The plaintiff in the Essex County lawsuit was born and raised in Romania. According to her complaint, she and her husband immigrated to the United States in 2000 and became naturalized citizens in 2005. She states that she began studying English in the second grade. She obtained a master’s degree from a New Jersey school, with all instruction taking place in English. She states that she began working for the defendant in 2012 and that her employment went well for several years.

The plaintiff reportedly began working under a new supervisor in 2015 who, she claims, “treated her differently and with hostility because of her accent and manner of speaking.” This behavior allegedly intensified after she reported it and had a meeting with HR. She described an ongoing campaign of discrimination and retaliation by this supervisor over the following few years.

The defendant fired the plaintiff in July 2017 for reasons she claimed were pretextual. She filed a lawsuit in November 2017 against the defendant company and the individual supervisor. She asserted two causes of action against her former employer under the NJLAD: wrongful termination and hostile work environment, both based on national origin.

The case against the plaintiff’s former employer went to trial in late January 2024 and continued through February. On March 1, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on both counts. It awarded her a total of $1 million consisting of $500,000 in back pay and $500,000 in emotional distress damages. The court granted the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict on the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. The defendant has filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the other two claims. That motion is scheduled for a hearing in mid-May 2024.

The Resnick Law Group’s skilled and experienced employment lawyers help workers in New Jersey and New York who have suffered harm because of unlawful actions by their employers. If you believe your employer has violated federal or state employment laws, please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation to see what we can do for you.

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