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The events that took place on January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol were jarring to many. Some of those made uncomfortable by what they saw were employers, who subsequently took action by firing employees and severing ties with contractors who were depicted participating in the event, according to news sources like CNN. This has caused many to wonder, can a New Jersey employer or business do that? The answer, as is the case with so many legal issues, is… it depends. For these reasons, it is best to get customized answers based on your specific situation from an experienced New Jersey employment attorney.

Perhaps the first thing to know is that there are a lot of situations where this type of employment action is legally permissible in New Jersey. New Jersey does not have a law that makes participants in political activity or a political group a protected class for purposes of discrimination law. So, if your job is something that fits within the law’s definition of “at-will employment” (which is most jobs), then, yes, chances are high that your employer can fire you.

There are, however, some important situations where that’s not the case. First, if your employment is subject to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), then you’re not an at-will employee. Everyone from teachers to dock workers, who are members of unions, fit into this category. For a unionized worker, the answer to whether or not your employer can fire you for your political activities is contained within your union’s CBA with that employer. Some may allow this basis for termination, but many CBAs likely do not allow it. Your employer’s firing you anyway could constitute a violation of the CBA.

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The scenario is probably all too familiar for some workers. You work hard to break into your chosen field and then to build a successful career. Then, after having done that, you have the rug pulled from beneath you when your employer decides to replace you with someone younger. Maybe the employer did it because of the replacement’s more youthful appearance or because the replacement was cheaper. Either way, you may have been the victim of impermissible age discrimination and may be able to take action through the courts. Don’t let time run out on you; be sure to contact an experienced New Jersey age discrimination attorney without delay to discuss your legal options.

As noted above, there may be many underlying reasons for age discrimination. Sometimes it is financial. Other times, especially for women in the public eye, the reason may be simply related to physical appearance and the perceived greater business benefit from putting a younger female face before the public.

Two New Jersey women were involved in a high-profile lawsuit and settlement, reported by the New York Times, that implicated the latter set of issues.

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Most of us are graded at work on our outward appearance, whether that grading takes place in a spoken or unspoken manner, and whether we realize it or not. Sometimes, this is quite appropriate, such as requiring certain vestiges of formality in dress and appearance at certain professional office workplaces. Other times, though, it is decidedly not. If you find yourself on the receiving end of inappropriate comments at work that relate to your appearance, those comments may be more than offensive… they may be the basis of a valid claim for sex discrimination. When that happens to you, contact a knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to discuss your situation in full detail.

So, what can “inappropriate” look like? Consider this recent case from federal court as an example. J.P., the employee, was a patient coordinator for a plastic surgery medical surgery practice. J.P. was also a woman who had to put up with a lot of demeaning workplace comments related to her appearance and the appearances of her colleagues, according to her lawsuit.

J.P.’s supervisor allegedly criticized the darkness of her skin (“you look like a minority”), her lips (looking “Amazon”) and her carriage (“like [someone] in a ‘wet t-shirt contest’”). The supervisor also criticized J.P.’s colleagues as too “frumpy” and one woman as “too ugly” to begin work at the practice until she had “work done.”

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A few years ago, a team from Carnegie Mellon University completed a study and found that Muslim job candidates faced particularly high levels of discrimination in the hiring process if the employer was located in one of the so-called “red states,” such as in the high plains, the northern Rockies and the southeast. More recently, though, incidents have occurred that raise the specter of anti-Muslim discrimination far away from places like Alabama or Idaho. These incidents demonstrate that, even here in New Jersey, Muslim workers face very real threats of religious discrimination, and that’s especially true in industries like engineering and information technology. If you’ve been harmed as a result of religious discrimination, you have the right to seek compensation in court, so you should reach out to a knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination attorney right away.

The most recent potential incident involved an information technology (IT) services company based right here in New Jersey. In late November, news reports began surfacing that exposed an email for an application developer position.

InsiderNJ reported that, at the top of the email, which was addressed to a recruiter, the listing said, “please do not submit Muslim candidates for below position.” The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the firm to undergo a full investigation and discipline all those involved in wrongdoing.

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With coronavirus numbers surging, Gov. Phil Murphy has stated that a new statewide lockdown is “on the table,” according to news reports. Whether or not the state enters a new lockdown, the state’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases will likely lead to more and more employers considering remote work for their employees. That, in turn, will likely mean more and more use of technology platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. However, as we’ve seen from recent headlines and news stories, this type of work environment presents its own risks when it comes to discrimination and sexual harassment. If you’ve suffered discrimination or harassment in a virtual meeting, don’t wait… reach out to an experienced New Jersey workplace discrimination attorney today to discuss your legal options.

The use of new technology like Zoom has proven to be fertile ground for both embarrassing blunders and offensive misconduct. These incidents have included a woman who inadvertently broadcast herself on the toilet during a Zoom call; a Brazilian government worker accidentally captured having sex during a Zoom call, and a prominent TV legal analyst who accidentally broadcast his act of self-gratification during an election simulation call with colleagues from the New Yorker.

Some of these stories may yield laughs from readers, but this actually points to a serious issue. Sexual harassment can occur in many ways and isn’t limited to face-to-face encounters. Being involuntarily exposed to unwanted comments, jokes, or material of a sexual nature can also be a form of sexual harassment, even when it happens over Zoom.

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In late November and early December, reports began surfacing that approval of a COVID-19 vaccine might be near and that a ‘massive’ network designed to distribute the vaccine was ready to get millions of doses to Americans. While many may be eagerly anticipating a COVID-19 vaccine, others may be viewing it with a more skeptical eye. Some opposed to getting vaccinated may soon find themselves potentially forced to choose between getting an unwanted vaccine or losing their jobs. For certain New Jerseyans, an employer forcing a mandatory vaccine upon them may represent a violation of the Law Against Discrimination and, with the help of a skilled New Jersey employment discrimination attorney, provide the foundation of a winning civil claim in court.

In several circumstances, an employer that establishes a policy requiring all employees to receive a vaccine may be acting legally under the Law Against Discrimination. Recently, the state legislature passed a law that required all home health care workers, nursing home staff and hospital workers to receive the flu vaccine. By analogy and logical extension, any policy by one of these types of employers to require the COVID-19 vaccine would generally be permissible.

Note those words “several” and “generally” in that preceding paragraph. Whether you work at a hospital, a bank or at a construction site, there are certain situations in which your employer is limited in what it can do. Your employer cannot, for example, make you get a vaccine if you can show that receiving that vaccine would be seriously medically harmful to you. If you have a valid medical exemption and your employer refuses to honor it, that refusal could represent the basis of a winning disability discrimination case in New Jersey.

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Here in New Jersey, there are roughly 250 Catholic schools across the state, employing many thousands of teachers and other education professionals. Because these schools are not just educational institutions but also religious institutions, the First Amendment gives them greater latitude when it comes to employment decisions like hiring, firing, etc. The law does not, however, give them carte blanche to discriminate whenever and however they see fit. If you’re been fired from your job with a religious school because you allegedly violated a sexual orientation or sex-related “morality” requirement, it may be that, even with the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections, your employer has committed illegal discrimination that can entitle you to receive compensation. Reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to find out more.

Two of the more common scenarios in which these issues of law come up involve either an unmarried pregnant employee, or a gay or lesbian employee who gets married. V.C. was an example of the former.

V.C., who worked at a Catholic school in Union County, started out a teacher for toddlers and later moved to a position teaching art. In January 2014, she told her principal she was pregnant. The principal fired V.C., who was not married at the time, just a few weeks later.

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If you are familiar with commercial airplanes, then you probably know the name “McDonnell Douglas” from its many well-known jets, including the DC 10. For people, such as an experienced New Jersey employment attorney, who are knowledgeable about discrimination law, the name “McDonnell Douglas” is familiar for a different reason. That’s because, in a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case bearing the company’s name, the high court created an important framework that victims of workplace discrimination, including those in New Jersey, still use today in their lawsuits.

The “McDonnell Douglas framework,” as it is called, comes in three parts. The first hurdle involves you, as the worker who was harmed by discrimination, establishing a “prima facie case” of discrimination.

A prima facie case of discrimination involves showing that you were a member of a protected class (like age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.), that you were qualified for the job you held, and that you suffered an adverse employment action (such as demotion, termination, reduction in hours, etc.) because of your membership in that protected class.

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On April 24, 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act. That new law represented a huge step forward when it comes to closing the wage gap between men and women, and the fruits of that new law are starting to be seen. Recent reports of successful outcomes in equal pay litigation cases have started to emerge. If you have been hurt by the wage gap, you should take heart from these recent reports. Armed with this new law and the important new legal options it provides, you have fewer reasons than ever to delay retaining a skilled New Jersey employment attorney if you think you’ve been harmed by discriminatory pay practices.

The Equal Pay Act allows a harmed worker to pursue a civil lawsuit. What is special and noteworthy about this kind of lawsuit is that the Equal Pay Act says that, if you prevail, you may recover treble damages. You may only have heard of “treble” in music class but, in the law, “treble” means triple. So, in other words, if you can prove that you lost out on $200,000 in income due to an equal pay violation, you may be able to recover a damages award of $600,000.

There’s an additional subtle benefit that the possibility of triple damages provides to harmed workers: it gives employers added incentive to settle equal pay lawsuits prior to trial.

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An ancient Chinese proverb says that a “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This wisdom recognizes that, to accomplish any undertaking, you must first take that initial step (and, implicitly, keep taking each step and clearing each hurdle one at a time) until you reach your destination. Your discrimination or harassment case can be a lot like that. It may seem massive, overwhelming and intimidating at first but, with the aid of a skilled New Jersey employment attorney, you can clear all the hurdles and achieve a positive result… one step at a time.

One of the most important steps in any discrimination case is clearing the hurdle presented by the defense’s motion for summary judgment. If you don’t clear this hurdle, then your case is thrown out without a trial and you recover nothing. Additionally, for workers who are open to settlement, it is often the case that employers’ settlement offers will become much larger and fairer after they’ve lost their motions for summary judgment as compared to before that outcome.

Defeating a defense motion for summary judgment does not require providing the court with as much proof as you’d need to win at trial. For example, look at the recently decided case of N.H., a New Jersey college professor.

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