Workplace harassment on the basis of a protected category is considered unlawful employment discrimination under New Jersey law and throughout the country. Most people are familiar with how sexual harassment violates New Jersey employment discrimination laws, but it also applies to harassment based on race, religion, and other factors. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-1 et seq., prohibits discrimination and harassment on numerous bases, as well as retaliation for opposing or reporting alleged unlawful practices. The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), id. at § 34:19-1 et seq., protects the rights of whistleblowers who report suspected unlawful activity by their employers. A state employee filed suit in 2013 for race harassment and retaliation under the NJLAD and CEPA. In April 2019, a jury in Mercer County, New Jersey awarded him over $987,000 in damages.
The NJLAD prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race and multiple other factors. See id. at § 10:5-12(a). This includes a wide range of adverse employment actions. Firing or refusing to hire a person because of their race is perhaps the most obvious sort of discriminatory act in violation of the NJLAD, but workplace discrimination takes far more forms than that. Pervasive and unwelcome actions that create a hostile work environment based on race also support an NJLAD claim.
Employers who “take reprisals against any person” who either opposes or reports alleged violations of the NJLAD commit a separate violation of the NJLAD, commonly known as retaliation. Id. at § 10:5-12(d). CEPA provides similar protections for employees who “[d]isclose, or threaten to disclose” alleged legal violations by an employer, either to a supervisor or a government body. Id. at § 34:19-3(a). This may include reporting NJLAD violations.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned above began working for the state government in 1998. He filed a race discrimination lawsuit in Camden County in 2008. Shortly after the lawsuit was settled in 2011, the department in which he worked instituted an “open window” policy. He claimed that this targeted him, “as he was one of very few employees whose office had a very large internal window.” He alleged that “[t]his created a fishbowl effect designed to intimidate [him] and anyone who would speak with [him].” His complaint described an ongoing pattern of exclusion from important meetings, decision-making processes, and other important work functions; interference with work assignments; and ostracism and verbal abuse by co-workers.
A jury found that harassing conduct based on the plaintiff’s race had occurred, that it was severe enough that a reasonable person would consider it hostile, and that the employer knew about it but failed to take reasonable measures to stop it. It further found that the plaintiff was subjected to an adverse employment action because of a protected activity, which are the key elements of retaliation. It awarded him $984,000 in emotional damages and just over $2,200 in economic damages. The jury further found that the defendant’s conduct was “especially egregious,” and that upper management either participated in said conduct or “was willfully indifferent to it.” It awarded $1,000 in punitive damages as a result.
The Resnick Law Group’s team of experienced and skilled race discrimination lawyers can assist you in your dispute with an employer in New Jersey or New York. Please contact us today at 973-781-1204, at 646-867-7997, or through our website to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your rights and options.