08.15.2023You Can Say What?! New Jersey District Court Rejects Claims of Hostile Work Environment On July 29, 2023, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in Tavares v. Builders FirstSource Northeast Group, Inc., granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment most notably finding that racist and sexual comments that Plaintiff used to support his claim of hostile work environment did not rise to the “severe and pervasive” standard necessary to support a claim. This case harkens back to the notorious case of Heitzman v. Monmouth County, 321 N.J. Super. 133 (App. Div. 1999), where several anti-Semitic comments were found insufficient to meet the “severe and pervasive” standard. Heitzman was of course cited by every defense lawyer for the next decade to try to defeat hostile work environment claims. So, the question becomes does Tavares mean that the New Jersey courts will become more skeptical of plaintiff’s claims and more supportive of employer defenses like in Heitzman, despite the Me Too movement and the seeming reluctance by the New Jersey judiciary to grant summary judgment to employers? The answer is context matters. There are lessons from Tavares to be sure, but it does not yet herald a major shift to employers in the New Jersey courts.
08.14.2023After the Injury: NJ District Court Reiterates Indefinite Light Duty & Unpaid Leave is Not a Reasonable AccommodationOn July 12, 2023, in Wraith v. Wayfair, Inc., the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granted summary judgment in favor of an employer, dismissing a former employee’s claim of disability discrimination and failure to accommodate in violation of the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA), the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and the New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Law (PSLL) following an on-the-job injury. The District Court found that the employer did not have a duty to accommodate an indefinite light duty or indefinite leave under the law where the only information provided was a physician note indicating the employee could not return to work.
06.20.2023Patience is a Virtue: NJ Appellate Division Affirms Settlement of Discipline Bars Recovery Under the NJLAD On May 1, 2023, in Onukogu v. New Jersey State Judiciary, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgement in favor of the employer, affirming the dismissal of the employee’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The case demonstrates how employers, when faced with employees with long-term disciplinary problems who they wish to retain, can link decisions not to discipline or terminate to a release of potential claims.
05.25.2023A Second Chance: NJ Employer Escapes Liability Where It Rectifies Discriminatory Conduct On May 17, 2023, in Schoenberg v. The Devereux Foundation, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed summary judgment for an employer, on a complaint filed by a former employee alleging gender and pregnancy discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The Court found that even where the employer had discriminated against the employee by revoking a job offer when it learned the employee was pregnant, the employer had rectified the situation and made the employee “whole” by reinstating the offer. The Court concluded that the employee unreasonably rejected the offer.
04.25.2023NJ District Court Awards Rule 11 Sanctions in Favor of Employer for Frivolous SuitOn March 31, 2023, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, in the matter of Desire v. Dreamwear Inc., imposed Rule 11 sanctions in favor of an employer based on the filing of a frivolous Second Amended Complaint. This case serves as an important reminder that filing frivolous claims will not be tolerated by the court and when warranted, employers should move for sanctions.
04.21.2023NJ District Court Upholds Employee Termination After FMLA Leave On March 31, 2023, in LeBlanc v. Thomas Jefferson University, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granted an employer’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing a former’s employee’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD).
04.10.2023NJ Appellate Division Rules No Age or Disability Bias in Termination of 60-Year-Old EmployeeOn March 29, 2023, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed an employer’s win after a former employee claimed he was fired on the basis of his age and disability. In Estate of Zoto v. Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless, Inc., the Appellate Division ruled that where an employee offers no evidence of age discrimination and fails to submit any documentation of a medical disability to his employer, there is no violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD).
03.29.2023NJ Appellate Division Rules Former Employee’s Cell Phone Records & Private Social Media are Not So Private AfterallOn March 16, 2023, in a published decision in Norma Davis v. Disability Rights New Jersey, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a former employee’s private social media accounts and personal cell phone records are relevant and discoverable to defend against a claim of wrongful termination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), where the former employee claims the employer’s conduct subjected them to severe emotional distress.
03.14.2023To Click or Not to Click: NJ Appellate Division Reaffirms Enforceability of Electronic Arbitration AgreementsOn March 7, 2023, in Dakota Powell vs. Prime Comms Retail LLC, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a former employee must arbitrate her claims of race discrimination, rather than pursue them in court due to her electronic acknowledgement of a Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate upon hiring. The decision in Powell further confirms the growing acceptance of arbitration agreements by the New Jersey courts in New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) cases.
12.22.2022Compliance Alert For New Jersey Employers: Updated Employment Posters issued by the DCRThe New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) recently adopted new and amended regulations concerning the "Display of Official Posters of the Division on Civil Rights” which require employers to display two updated posters in the workplace. The first poster informs employees of the prohibition under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) against discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on a protected status. The second poster informs employees of their right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave in a 24 month period to care for a family member or bond with a newly born or placed child under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). The NJFLA applies to employers of 30 or more employees.
11.03.2022Timing is Everything: NJ Appellate Division Compels Arbitration of Employee’s Sex Harassment ClaimsOn October 26, 2022, the New Jersey Appellate Division in Rourke v. Herr Foods, Inc. once again confirmed that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts the 2019 amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) invalidating employment agreements that require employees to waive rights pertaining to claims of harassment, discrimination and/or retaliation. Thus, the employee was required to proceed to arbitration on his sexual harassment, sexual assault and retaliation claims.
09.15.2022Third Circuit Confirms ABC Test Applies in Wage Theft CaseIn a recent decision in Bailey v. Millennium Group of Delaware et al, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit confirmed that the ABC Test – long used by the New Jersey Department of Labor – sets forth the proper analysis for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor under the State’s wage and hour laws.
06.16.2022It’s Settled . . . Or Is It? NJ Appellate Division Rules The NJLAD Does Not Prohibit Non-Disparagement Clauses in Settlement Agreements On May 31, 2022, in Savage v. Township of Neptune, the New Jersey Appellate Division partially upheld, and partially overturned, a trial court’s enforcement of a private settlement agreement, holding that although the settlement agreement’s non-disparagement clause was enforceable and not violative of the statutory prohibition against enforcing non-disclosure provisions in harassment/discrimination/retaliation cases, the employee’s allegedly disparaging statements did not actually violate the non-disparagement clause as written.
05.31.2022Is There a Problem Officer?: NJ Appellate Division Affirms Dismissal of Retired Police Officer’s Disability LawsuitOn May 23, 2022, the New Jersey Appellate Division upheld a trial court’s dismissal of failure to promote, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims brought by a retired New Jersey State Police Trooper. In Stonnell v. State of New Jersey, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the trooper’s New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) claims, finding that he failed to set forth facts sufficient to establish that the New Jersey State Police violated the law with respect to his employment.
04.28.2022Glass Houses: Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed Due to Employee’s Own Unprofessional ConductOn April 19, 2022, in Bouziotis v. Iron Bar, LLC, the New Jersey Appellate Division upheld a trial court’s dismissal of a former bartender’s hostile work environment and gender discrimination claims partly on the grounds that employee partook in the “pejorative language and boorish conduct pervading Iron Bar’s atmosphere,” just as much as anyone else, regardless of gender. Because the former employee could not show that the alleged misconduct occurred “but for [her] gender,” the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer.
04.25.2022Employer Documentation Saves the Day & Earns Dismissal of Age Bias LawsuitOn April 4, 2022, in the matter of Jane Rocks, et al. v. PNC Investments LLC, et al., a three-judge Appellate Panel affirmed the Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of PNC Investments LLC and dismissing the former employees’ claims of age discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The Appellate Division found the employees were unable to demonstrate that they were held to higher standards due to their age.