New Jersey Lawsuit by Former University President Alleges Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, and Retaliation

Employment disputes can often become quite complicated. Multiple issues and complaints can combine to create an untenable situation, or one grievance can turn into many. Workplace discrimination, for example, can lead to retaliation for opposing or reporting that discrimination. New Jersey employment law protects workers against numerous types of adverse actions by employers. A lawsuit filed in a New Jersey state court last month presents a complicated series of allegations, including sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation. It also alleges discrimination based on association with an individual who reported alleged wrongdoing.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits discrimination based on sex and numerous other factors. This includes sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment. The law protects people who have experienced unlawful acts but fear for their jobs if they come forward. Employers may not retaliate against someone because they “opposed any practices or acts forbidden under this act.” Employees have similar protections in the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). This law prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting suspected wrongdoing by an employer.

The lawsuit described above also alleges “associational discrimination.” This cause of action derives from a 1995 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The plaintiffs in that case were co-workers and relatives of an employee who had previously sued their employer under the NJLAD for retaliation. They alleged that the employer had retaliated against them because of their association with that individual. The court held that this was a valid NJLAD cause of action.

In the present case, a former university president (“J”) and his wife (“K”) are suing the university and five members of the Board of Regents. According to the complaint, J became aware of evidence that a former chair of the Board of Regents had engaged in various acts of misconduct. When J reported this information to the Board, he alleges that he experienced multiple forms of retaliation that eventually led to him resigning from his position.

The lawsuit does not name the former chair as a defendant. Instead, it alleges that the other members of the Board and the university “failed to uphold [their] obligation to engage in a timely and effective investigation into [J’s] complaints,” and that this allowed the former chair’s alleged retaliatory conduct to continue. These claims form part of the lawsuit’s case for retaliation, with the alleged inaction becoming part of the alleged campaign against J.

K’s sexual harassment allegations occur alongside her husband’s allegations. She states that the alleged harassment occurred in retaliation for J’s actions, and that J faced additional discrimination because she reported the harassment. The associational discrimination cause of action states that J, as K’s husband, is a member of a protected class under the NJLAD.

The lawsuit asserts five causes of action for J: Retaliation under CEPA, retaliation in violation of public policy, associational discrimination, breach of contract, and constructive termination. It asserts two causes of action on behalf of K for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and disparate treatment discrimination based on gender/sex under the NJLAD. Finally, it asserts a claim for retaliation/improper reprisal under the NJLAD for both J and K.

The experienced and knowledgeable employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group advocate for the rights of employees and job seekers in New Jersey and New York. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today at 973-781-1204, at 646-867-7997, or online.

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