New Jersey Senate Passes Bill Dealing with Sexual Harassment in Political Campaigns

New Jersey employment discrimination law prohibits sexual harassment in almost every workplace in the state, but it still remains a serious problem. Lawmakers in Trenton introduced a bill at the beginning of 2021 that sought to address sexual harassment in political campaigns. After several revisions and amendments, the New Jersey Senate passed the bill in June 2021. A companion bill, introduced in the Assembly in February 2021, is still awaiting a committee hearing.

Sexual harassment is viewed under state and federal law as a form of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. Court decisions interpreting statutes like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have identified two broad categories of actionable sexual harassment:
– “Quid pro quo sexual harassment” occurs when a person must submit to some sort of sexual demand as a condition of employment, such as a manager who hands out favorable shift assignments or other perks to employees who agree to sexual activity.
– “Hostile work environment” involves unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace, which is pervasive or severe enough that a reasonable person would find it to be hostile and incompatible with a safe workplace.

Both statutes also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who oppose or report unlawful practices. While these laws protect a wide range of workers, sexual harassment in the political realm can be complicated. Title VII excludes the federal government itself from liability for discrimination and harassment, but other statutes allow claims against government employees, and even elected officials. See, e.g. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b)(1), 2 U.S.C. § 1311. The NJLAD, on the other hand, includes “the State…and all public officers” in its definition of “employer.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10-5:5(e).

Laws dealing with sexual harassment in the government do not directly address the issue when it occurs in political campaigns. Even when a candidate is also an incumbent, they are not acting in their official role as an elected official. The campaign is the employer, not the government. This has proven to be a loophole in state law that affects campaign workers, volunteers, lobbyists, and others. An article published by in late 2019 discusses allegations of sexual harassment, and worse, going back decades.

S3389, passed by the New Jersey Senate on June 30, 2021, seeks to address “the toxic climate of harassment, sexual violence and misogyny that too often pervades New Jersey’s political culture.” It specifically calls out “[p]olitical candidates, campaigns and party organizations” for “suppressing, hiding or ignoring allegations of sexual misconduct.” The bill would create a commission charged with investigating allegations of sexual harassment against political candidates, their staff members, members of political party committees, and other individuals involved in or close to political campaigns, including lobbyists and members of the press.

The bill would require political campaigns to adopt policies against harassment. Candidates, campaign staff, and political committee members would have to receive anti-harassment training. A person who files a complaint with the new commission would not be barred from also filing a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is a prerequisite for filing an employment discrimination lawsuit.

The experienced and skilled employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group represent employees and former employees in New Jersey and New York. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how our team can help you.

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