Unwelcome sexual remarks in the workplace can violate employment statutes in New Jersey that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. This kind of conduct becomes unlawful sexual harassment when it is so severe or pervasive that an objective observer would find it to be a hostile work environment. An employer may be liable for damages under laws like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) when management is aware of the harassment but does not take reasonable steps to correct the situation. A lawsuit filed in September 2021 in a New Jersey state court alleges sexual harassment by several executives and others at a mortgage lender. If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, you would be wise to consult with a New Jersey employment attorney as soon as possible.
The NJLAD prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, gender, and numerous other factors. Harassment on the basis of any protected category could violate the law, such as harassment of an employee because of their religion or religious attire. Sexual harassment is particularly insidious in workplaces around the country. The U.S. Supreme Court first recognized sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination under federal law in a 1986 decision, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.
The Meritor decision addressed “unwelcome sexual advances that create an offensive or hostile working environment,” and found that a plaintiff does not have to prove direct economic losses, such as a demotion or cut in pay, to establish that discrimination occurred. The impact of enduring a hostile work environment can be enough, the court held. The New Jersey Supreme Court adopted the Meritor ruling in a 1993 decision addressing a hostile work environment claim under the NJLAD.
The plaintiff in the above-described lawsuit worked for the defendant as its director of marketing. She states that she received positive reviews from her supervisors for her work, but that she also faced ongoing inappropriate sexual remarks in the office and at work functions. She alleges, for example, that two coworkers falsely claimed that she had had a sexual relationship with someone else from the company. They allegedly repeated these allegations at a work event in front of other employees and made an unwelcome sexual overture. The company owner, the plaintiff claims, laughed at her when she reported the incident.
The complaint alleges additional instances of inappropriate sexual remarks, including several by company executives. For example, she claims that the company president instructed her to “dress sexy” at work events, and told her that “due to her beautiful appearance, attracting new clients was what she was ‘best at.’” She claims other forms of gender discrimination and hostile remarks during her pregnancy, and she claims to have witnessed at least one instance involving harassment of an assistant based on their national origin.
The lawsuit seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. In order to recover punitive damages in a New Jersey lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant acted with “actual malice” or “wanton and willful disregard of persons who foreseeably might be harmed.”
The employment lawyers at the Resnick Law Group represent workers in New Jersey and New York in claims for sexual harassment and other violations of federal and state law. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.