Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under New Jersey employment law. It can range from unwelcome workplace behavior, such as sexually-charged jokes or comments, to outright sexual advances or worse. Federal and state laws in New Jersey prohibit this type of conduct, as well as retaliation against workers who report alleged unlawful activity. They also allow employees to recover damages from their employers. In November 2022, a court in Camden County awarded $7 million in damages to a group of plaintiffs who alleged widespread sexual harassment in the dental office where they worked.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sex. This includes sexual harassment. Federal and state courts have identified two main types of sexual harassment:
– Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee or job applicant must submit to sexual demands in order to obtain an employment-related benefit or avoid a penalty. A hiring manager, for example, might tell a job applicant that the job is theirs, but only if they agree to sexual activity.
– A hostile work environment occurs when a workplace features recurring or severe sexual conduct. The harassment must be serious enough that it interferes with someone’s ability to do their job. It may come from anyone in the workplace, such as a supervisor, coworker, or customer.
Eight women filed suit against their employer, a dental practice with offices in several areas of New Jersey, in 2016. They alleged multiple violations of the NJLAD. The defendants include multiple business entities and individual owners, managers, and supervisors. In an amended complaint filed in 2020, the plaintiffs describe the dental offices as a “sexual harassment playground” for several managers. They allege an ongoing pattern of “unwelcome sexual advances and flirting,” “unwanted touching and groping,” and requirements that “certain female employees…submit to sexual advances and flirting as a condition of employment.”
The amended complaint describes many specific incidents allegedly involving the two managers. It also states that “male employees were never treated in such a manner.” The plaintiffs further claim that the owners of the practice knew about the conduct and retaliated against employees who “complain[ed] of a workplace rife with sexual promiscuity.”
The case moved slowly through the litigation process. The parties went through mediation in 2018 but failed to reach an agreement. After the trial court denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the attorney for some of the defendants, that attorney withdrew from the case in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic caused further delays in the case.
At the plaintiffs’ request, the court held a proof hearing in lieu of a trial in September 2022. This resulted in a default judgment against many of the defendants. The court awarded compensatory and punitive damages to each plaintiff in amounts ranging from $400,000 to $1.5 million, for a total amount of $6.2 million. It also awarded $971,000 in fees and costs. The court will hear a motion to vacate the default judgment for some defendants in January 2023.
Sexual harassment is an unlawful and unacceptable practice in New Jersey workplaces. If you have experienced sexual harassment or other violations of state or federal law, you need a skilled legal advocate to help you assert your rights. The experienced employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group represent New Jersey and New York workers in a wide range of claims. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.