Phillips & Associates
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service animalRecently, the issue of “emotional support animals” has been in the news a lot. In August, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported on Southwest Airlines’ decision to limit such animals on its flights, allowing only cats and dogs. This came after another airline made news by refusing to allow a woman to board a flight in Newark with her large emotional support peacock earlier this year. While the famous emotional support peacock launched many social media memes, the assistance many animals provide people with disabilities is absolutely no laughing matter, and neither is discrimination against workers with disabilities who require the aid of service animals. So, you may wonder, what are your workplace rights in New Jersey when it comes to your animal that provides you aid? For in-depth answers to these and other questions that are specific to your situation, be sure to reach out a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney for the assistance you need.

While the issue of discrimination against people who have animals that render aid may come up most frequently with regard to housing or public accommodations, it can also arise in your job. To better understand your rights, it is important to make a key distinction, which is between service animals and support animals. A service animal is, according to federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a dog or miniature horse that is individually trained to “do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” The range of work and/or tasks a service animal might do include guiding a blind person, being a “hearing” dog for a deaf person, pulling a wheelchair, calming someone with PTSD, protecting someone having a seizure or reminding a person with a mental disorder to take his/her prescriptions. If you have a recognized disability and an animal can perform a task that lessens the symptoms or problems related to your disability, then that dog or miniature horse can qualify as a service animal.

Support animals, on the other hand, are different. The animals’ human companion does not have to have a recognized disability and the animal need not have gone through any specific training to perform any specific task or work.

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sexual harassmentAll workers in New Jersey have the right, and should expect, to be able to pursue their jobs and earn a living without enduring sexual harassment or discrimination on the job. Unfortunately, that isn’t always reality. When workplace discrimination or harassment does occur, you may have various legal options available to you. Depending on the specific facts of your situation, you may be entitled to sue in state court, in federal court or, sometimes, sue in both courts. Whether your circumstances permit you to pursue one or more legal actions to obtain the compensation you deserve, a skilled New Jersey discrimination attorney can help you assess all of the legal techniques available to you and give you the advice you need.

The case of a New Jersey municipal employee, S.P., that was reported by nj.com, was one which involved both state and federal legal action. S.P. allegedly had to endure some highly inappropriate behavior related to her work. S.P. purportedly was on the receiving end of quid-pro-quo sexual harassment and endured a hostile work environment inflicted by her employer’s director of municipal services and a health official. In addition, according to an earlier nj.com report, she was allegedly on the receiving end of inappropriate “sexting” messages from her mayor. According to the employee, the mayor agreed to settle the federal lawsuit if S.P. agreed to “commit to involving herself romantically” with the mayor.

Eventually, S.P. was terminated, which she alleged was the result of sex discrimination and retaliation.

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arbitrationA workplace discrimination and harassment lawsuit, like any type of civil case, offers the successful plaintiff the opportunity to recover certain types of damages. These damages may include compensatory damages that compensate the injured worker for the harm suffered.. (This may include lost back wages, lost future earnings and emotional distress.) Your case may present facts that allow for the pursuit of punitive damages. Even if your employer forced you to sign an arbitration agreement as part of your employment, you generally cannot be forced to give away your right to seek punitive damages. So, whether you’re in court or in an arbitration hearing, you have an array of damages you can seek. A knowledgeable New Jersey discrimination attorney can help you make certain that you are seeking all of the damages to which you are entitled, whether in arbitration or litigation.

One case that highlights a harassed worker’s right to seek punitive damages was the recent case of M.R. (Appellate Division Case No. A-5388-16T3). M.R.’s allegations were, unfortunately, not uncommon. She was an employee in the human resources department of a North Bergen-based company. In September 2015, G.O. became the new supervisor of the human resources department. Allegedly, soon thereafter, the supervisor began making sexual advances and she turned him down. According to the employee, after she objected to the harassment, the supervisor retaliated against her, culminating in the supervisor’s firing her in December 2015.

M.R. sued her employer and her supervisor, alleging that she was the victim of sexual harassment and a sexually hostile work environment, in addition to being the victim of retaliation.

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employee rightsIf you’ve been the victim of sex discrimination at work, you have certain rights and certain options for seeking damages to compensate you for the harm you suffered. Sometimes, though, achieving success can involve more than just accumulating evidence, presenting a case and obtaining a verdict in your favor. You may have to defend that outcome in additional battles like a defense request for a judgment as a matter of law, or an appeal. To make sure you are ready to handle whatever direction your case takes, secure strong representation from a skilled New Jersey discrimination attorney.

The federal case of a female police officer from near Newark was an example of just how many hurdles you may have clear to obtain, and then keep, your discrimination judgment. M.C. was an employee of the department for many years. The department granted health benefits to retired employees who had 25 years of service. When M.C. retired, the department determined that she had only 24 years and five months of service time. The department demanded that she work seven more months or else face not getting her health benefits.

M.C. sued for sex discrimination. In a case of sex discrimination, one way that the allegedly victimized employee can show that illegal discrimination took place is by proving that the employer treated a similarly situated employee outside her protected class in a more favorable manner than she was treated. M.C. had proof that a male employee had, like M.C., been denied originally benefits on the basis that he had just slightly less than 25 years of time on the job. Allegedly, high ranking employees stepped in, the male employee was given credit for time spent with other employers, and the adjusted calculation gave him more than 25 years’ time.

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If you’ve ever been around someone fairly knowledgeable about taxes, you might have overheard them say, when hearing of a lottery winner’s take or a very successful game-show contestant’s haul, “Well, that amount isn’t really what they will take home. The tax hit on that is quite significant.” That’s true. What’s also true is that this also happens to people who succeed in civil litigation matters. The taxing authorities are entitled to their “cut” of your civil judgment. That’s what makes a recent decision by a federal judge in North Jersey so significant. The judge took taxes into account in fashioning the damages award in a discrimination case. If you’ve been a victim of workplace discrimination, it is important to make sure you are doing everything possible to get everything you deserve, so protect yourself by retaining knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination counsel to handle your case.Legal News Gavel

The recent case, reported by nj.com, involved several police sergeants working for the Jersey City Police. One of the sergeants alleged that her political affiliation and her “expression about a matter of public concern” played a major role in denying her a promotion. Based on those alleged denials, the sergeants sued the City of Jersey City for violating the Law Against Discrimination. The sergeant’s politics and her speaking out about matters of public concern were protected activities under the statute, so any adverse employment action that was a result of those activities was illegal discrimination under the law, according to the lawsuit.

The jury decided that the city had engaged in illegal discrimination based upon political affiliation. For each of the sergeants, the jury calculated their economic damages as the present value calculation of the pension differential created by the lower rank. For the lead plaintiff, that meant an award of $276,000 in economic damages. As the judge noted, though, there was a problem. The employees had received lump-sum awards and would be required to pay taxes on those lump sums in one year, as opposed to “paying taxes on smaller amounts spread across past and future years.” This obligation to pay taxes on the lump sum in one year created “adverse tax consequences” for the employees.

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The successes of other employees in sexual harassment litigation can serve many positive purposes. For one thing, they can serve as encouragement that hopefully will embolden others to come forward and stop suffering from harassment in silence. For another thing, the rulings that the courts make can provide valuable knowledge for those who come afterward. As an example, one recent case from Newark reminds New Jersey workers that you do not need proof that you suffered some extreme or debilitating emotional injury in order to succeed in establishing that you suffered from severe or pervasive harassment. The focal point is the harasser’s actions, rather than how they affected you. For the knowledge you need for your case, retain the services of a skilled New Jersey sexual harassment attorney to represent you.Legal News Gavel

The case involved M.V., a customer service representative. M.V.’s case of sexual harassment is, unfortunately, an all-too-common set of facts. M.V. started her job in 2008 at the Newark office of a national producer of corrugated boxes. Not long after M.V. started work, her supervisor began sexually harassing her.

The harassment M.V. received was similar to the sorts of things too many employees have to endure. First came the supervisor’s comments about his sexual relationship with his girlfriend, with whom he’d recently split. Then came the supervisor’s comments about how he loved Latina women (like M.V.), how the ex-girlfriend thought he had “nice thighs,” how the girlfriend wanted him to have a threesome, and so forth. He also asked M.V. out to eat and placed his hand over her hand in an unwanted way. In addition, the supervisor stared at M.V.’s body inappropriately and often demanded that M.V. not speak to other men at the workplace.

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Legal News GavelNew Jersey law gives religious employers very broad latitude in the employment decisions they make. That broad latitude is required by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Based on those protections, you might think if you’ve been fired from a job at a religious place of employment that you have no recourse, right? Not necessarily. There are many circumstances where a religious employer may still run afoul of anti-discrimination laws and that violation may still entitle the discriminated employee to receive compensation. A knowledgeable New Jersey discrimination attorney can advise you on how best to pursue your case against a religious employer.

One recent example of this scenario was the Appellate Division ruling in the case of V.C., a teacher at a North Jersey Catholic school. The case, which received coverage from nj.com, involved a lay teacher who instructed toddlers. In January 2014, the teacher informed her principal that she was pregnant. At the time, the teacher was engaged but not yet married. Two weeks after the principal learned about the teacher’s pregnancy, the school fired the teacher.

V.C. sued for sex discrimination, but the trial court ruled against her and threw out her case.

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star-of-davidThe New Jersey Herald reported on a recent federal case from Louisiana declared that discrimination based upon an employment candidate’s Jewish heritage could constitute racial discrimination in violation of federal law. The employee’s attorney declared the ruling to be “precedent-setting.” While this recent case does not have precedential impact in New Jersey, it is a useful opportunity to analyze the rights and protections available to New Jersey employees who find themselves in this type of situation. If you have been the victim of discrimination because of your heritage or someone’s perception about your heritage, you may have a claim in New Jersey. Talk an experienced New Jersey discrimination attorney to find out more about your situation.

In the recent federal case, an alumnus of a Baptist college in Louisiana applied for a coaching position. The college president allegedly refused to hire the man because of his “Jewish blood.” (The candidate’s mother was Jewish.) The case was not one of religious discrimination, as the candidate was not a practitioner of the Jewish religion. The candidate was born into a Jewish family but converted to Christianity during his time at the school and on the football team, according to the Herald.

So, what might happen to a similar employment candidate in New Jersey? The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination bans employment discrimination based upon “race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender, gender identity, disability, nationality, military status, or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait.” Within that heading of creed is protection against discrimination based upon your religious belief or practices.

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Legal News GavelIn an important new decision from the federal courts, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a secretary could pursue her sexual harassment case even though she did not report the harassment she allegedly endured. The new appeals court opinion acknowledges the complicated dynamics that can exist for some workers and the very real and very damaging risks they can face by choosing to stand up and report their harassers to their employers. Whether or not you reported your harassment right away, you may have legal options. Be sure to contact an experienced New Jersey discrimination attorney about your situation.

The secretary, S.M., started working for a Pennsylvania county in 2009. Her supervisor started engaging in unwelcome physical contact soon thereafter. The two frequently worked in a setting where they were the only ones present. The supervisor also allegedly sent the secretary sexually explicit emails, to which she did not respond.

The county was aware of some of the supervisor’s inappropriate behaviors. Twice, the supervisor’s supervisor became aware of the man’s inappropriate conduct toward other female employees and issued reprimands to him. Beyond the verbal reprimands, no further action was taken against the man.

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Legal News GavelIn the last few months, multiple stories have emerged from New York City in which employees have asserted that they have been the victims of disability discrimination based upon their condition of sleep apnea. These cases are a reminder that disabilities can come in a wide range of varieties. Just because your disability does not involve a wheelchair or some other visible sign of limitation does not mean that it is not enough to trigger the protection of anti-discrimination laws. For advice and advocacy regarding your disability and workplace discrimination, contact a skilled New Jersey discrimination attorney to represent you.

While recent news articles from the New York Post and New York Daily News have focused on New York employees, New Jersey authorities have also faced this issue. Sometimes, the form of discrimination that an employer commits is the failure of the employer to provide the affected employee with a reasonable accommodation. For example, the employee in the Daily News article, a security guard with sleep apnea, sued after his employer allegedly fired him for sleeping during his meal breaks.

Last year, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office issued a ruling in which it found the existence of probable cause for a hearing on alleged disability discrimination. That case involved the employer’s refusal to let the worker return to the job, as opposed to providing some accommodation like nap breaks. R.B. was diagnosed with sleep apnea and placed on leave from his job as a yard switcher for a trucking company in Port Newark.

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