Phillips & Associates
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New laws, including a federal bill signed into law this past March, have helped give workers harmed by sexual harassment and/or sexual assault more power over the resolution of those claims. Previously, many employers had successfully moved these cases from the courts to arbitration (via the enforcement of arbitration agreements that they had demanded of their employees at the start of those employees’ employment.) Now, the law places more workers in control of deciding whether their cases go forward in a courtroom or in an arbitration setting. As with any kind of decision about your sexual harassment case, a knowledgeable New Jersey sexual harassment lawyer can provide critical advice about which option makes the most sense for you.

A recent sexual harassment ruling from the Appellate Division court shows the impact of this new law (and others,) and represents a bit of good news for people who are now going to court to file their sexual harassment complaints.

P.R. and his employer signed an employment contract that said that all claims — including issues of discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation — would be subject to arbitration. In June 2021, the employer fired P.R. Six months later, P.R. sued, alleging sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation. The employer sought to enforce the arbitration clause and move the case to an arbitration setting.

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We’d all like to hope that working professionals would, in this day and age, be past the point of using monkey images or monkey sounds as a way to taunt, tease, demean, or intimidate a Black coworker. Sadly, it’s not true. What’s more, many of these alleged instances of vile misconduct occur among the people who promised to protect and serve: the law enforcement community. Whether or not you work in a law enforcement capacity, you should not have to put with monkey jokes/references/pictures/etc. at work. If you have encountered these things on the job, you need to get in touch with an experienced New Jersey race discrimination lawyer right away.

Monkey references/images demean Black people by implying they’re more animal than human. Noose references/images intimidate Black workers by evoking the violence of the lynching of Black people, especially in the American South. In one New Jersey police facility, the perpetrator allegedly combined both of these offensive tropes, according to a report in The Trentonian.

The target, D.J., was a crime scene detective with the Trenton Police Department. During his time in that role, D.J. was the department’s only Black crime scene detective.

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Work-related religious discrimination can occur in many different ways. It may take the form of your employer forbidding you from doing something that’s required by your faith, or your employer demanding that you do something that’s inconsistent with the teachings of your religion. Either way, your employer is required, except in exceptional circumstances, to accommodate your religious beliefs and, if they don’t, you may be entitled to significant compensation through legal action. A knowledgeable New Jersey religious discrimination lawyer can help you determine whether you have a case and, if so, what your next steps should be.

The religious discrimination case surrounding a New Jersey pilot who worked for United Airlines was an example of the latter: an employer requirement that conflicted with the employee’s religion. The pilot had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency, and the Federal Aviation Authority had removed his medical clearance to fly.

United requires pilots with alcohol dependency issues to complete a “HIMS” (Human Intervention Motivation Study) program. HIMS, according to the himsprogram.com website, is “an occupational substance abuse treatment program, specific to pilots, that coordinates the identification, treatment, and return to work process for” pilots affected by substance use issues, helping them to secure new medical clearances to fly.

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We probably all can imagine what a workplace retaliation situation might look like. An employee speaks up against discrimination, harassment, or some other illegal conduct, and for speaking out, that worker loses their job. But job loss is far from the only form of retaliation for which you can take action. In fact, under Title VII, the federal discrimination statute, retaliation can be anything that a reasonable worker would construe to be materially adverse to them. That potentially can be a wide spectrum of things. If you think you’ve endured retaliation at work, get in touch with an experienced New Jersey retaliation lawyer to learn more about your legal options.

As an example, there’s the recent retaliation case of Y.C., an intake officer with the New Jersey Department of Child Protection & Permanency.

For Y.C.’s first 18 months, the department assigned new cases on a “straight rotation” basis. Starting in September 2013, though, the officer’s supervisor instituted a new “modified rotation” system designed to ensure that all new cases involving Spanish-speaking families got assigned to Y.C. or one of the office’s three other Spanish-speaking intake officers. She objected, arguing that the modified rotation system would place a heavier burden on the four bilingual intake officers.

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While TV shows often are replete with office romances, the real world is frequently much more complicated. Relationships with coworkers can be filled with potential pitfalls, especially if the pursuer is someone with greater workplace power than the pursued. These situations too often aren’t entirely consensual but rather involve explicit or implicit promises/threats about the benefits of accepting or the harms of refusing. When that happens, you may have been the victim of illegal conduct, so you should discuss your situation with a knowledgeable New Jersey sexual harassment lawyer.

Certainly, members of the legal community should be well aware of the laws against sexual harassment in New Jersey but, regrettably, law offices throughout this state are not immune to instances of alleged sexual harassment, as Law360’s report about one recent East Brunswick sexual harassment case highlights.

The woman, M.B., was a paralegal for a male attorney from March 2019 to July 2022. During the paralegal’s second year of employment, she and the attorney engaged in a sexual relationship for four months. The relationship was entirely mutually consensual. The paralegal ended the affair in November 2020.

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In some cases, the religious discrimination you encounter at work may be the result of differing faiths, like an atheist supervisor relentlessly teasing a Muslim subordinate about her religious head covering, or a Catholic supervisor firing a subordinate when she discovered the subordinate was Wiccan. Religious discrimination at work is not limited, however, to disagreements between people of differing faiths. It is possible for you to be the target of illegal employment discrimination based on religion even if you and the person responsible for the discrimination are members of the same religion, same denomination, or even the same church body. In either scenario, the law protects workers from this kind of hostility at work, so you should get in touch with a knowledgeable New Jersey religious discrimination lawyer about how to protect your rights.

The religious discrimination case of L.S., a South Jersey woman who worked as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at a Voorhees Township assisted living facility, is an example of the latter of the two above categories.

L.S. worked for the facility for roughly 18 months until the employer terminated her in January 2021. Before the nurse started working at the facility she attended a church whose members also included P.W., a unit manager at the same assisted living facility. Before the nurse started her job at the facility, she left that congregation due to “issues with the church’s administration.”

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In early 2021, the governor of New Jersey signed into law a bill that, among other things, protected New Jersey workers from certain adverse consequences as a result of their legal use of marijuana off the clock. If you’ve been fired or suffered other negative consequences as a result of your legal marijuanba use, your employer may have violated the law. Get in touch with an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer right away to protect yourself and your rights.

More recently, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission published workplace guidelines that established protections for legal users. One of the biggest takeaways from the commission’s new guidance is that, while employers may still test for marijuana, they may not punish their workers solely as a result of workers’ testing positive in a drug screen for marijuana metabolites (THC).

The new guidelines say that employers seeking to penalize a worker primarily must look for “behavioral indicators” or “physical signs or symptoms” sufficient to support a reasonable suspicion that the employee has attended work while intoxicated. If the employer has identified one or more of these indicators and/or signs, then a positive test result may also be included as part of the employer’s reasonable suspicion about a worker’s having worked while high on marijuana.

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A collective bargaining agreement between teachers and a school district in Minnesota has made waves inside and outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The part of the agreement receiving the most scrutiny is the one establishing affirmative action in layoffs. While the Minnesota agreement will affect no New Jersey workers, it still makes for a useful opportunity to remind New Jersey workers that the law has limits on what employers can do in efforts to remediate historical and/or systemic racism. Some programs, however well intended, may cross the line into the realm of illegal race discrimination, giving those harmed the opportunity, with the aid of a skilled New Jersey race discrimination lawyer, the opportunity to pursue – and win – a civil lawsuit.

The Minnesota agreement, which was between the Minneapolis Public Schools and the teachers’ union, said that teachers who were members of “underrepresented populations” were exempt from the general rule for layoffs, which was one of “last hired, first fired.” In other words, in the event of layoffs, the school district would potentially bypass a teacher of color with less seniority and instead select a white teacher with more seniority for that layoff.

Supporters of the policy hailed it as a necessary step to make up for past discrimination against people of color and the underrepresentation of communities of color among the schools’ faculties, helping schools’ faculties to look would more closely like the students they’re teaching. Opponents decried the rule as a blatant instance of race discrimination against white teachers.

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Grace Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist and rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, is credited with having observed that the “hardest thing in the world is to change the minds of people who keep saying, ‘But we’ve always done it this way.’ These are days of fast changes and if we don’t change with them, we can get hurt or lost,” the admiral told a Baltimore newspaper. That reality rings true for employers and supervisors who think that “we’ve always done it this way” works as some sort of immunity against liability for sexual harassment. It doesn’t and, if you’ve endured harassment from an “old boys club” who told you “we’ve always done it this way,” then you should get in touch with an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment lawyer to discuss your situation.

One area where too many employers seem to have a blind eye to the need for change is the issue of mixing business and strip clubs. Most recently, a female employee scored an important federal court victory in her sexual harassment case against her employer, a New Jersey corporation that provided “products and services to mobile network operators.”

The employee, B.C., alleged that the employer’s president and chief technology officer twice attempted to kiss her. Additionally, her supervisor took clients to strip clubs and engaged in discussions of his strip club trips that made B.C. “uncomfortable.”

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If you follow this blog with any degree of regularity, you know that one of the most pernicious forms of employment discrimination is pregnancy and/or breastfeeding discrimination. Here in New Jersey, the protections the law has created are strong, and, for some pregnant and/or breastfeeding mothers, they just got stronger through new protocols announced by the Attorney General’s Office (OAG). If you’ve endured discrimination at work because of your pregnancy or because you’re breastfeeding, don’t wait to get in touch with an experienced New Jersey pregnancy discrimination lawyer.

Pregnancy and/or breastfeeding discrimination in employment remains stubbornly frequent, likely reflecting the persistence of harmful stereotypes and biased views against these workers. Unlike, say, 75 years ago, most people today understand that a person shouldn’t be fired or denied employment just because they’re Black or Asian or an atheist, etc. However, far too many people, deep down actually believe that pregnant women and/or breastfeeding women genuinely should not be in the workplace.

The instances have occurred many times and continue to appear in court dockets. In 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling laying out the breadth of coverage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the causes of action it creates.

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