Articles Posted in Racial Discrimination

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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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One need not be a “psychic” to have seen it coming. The particulars of the coronavirus were something that clearly lent itself to triggering race discrimination and harassment. The state government even took proactive steps to warn employers to avoid such discrimination and harassment in their workplaces. However, as is too often the case, not even warnings from the Attorney General will stop harassment from occurring at some workplaces. Whether coronavirus-related or not, if you’ve suffered workplace discrimination because of your race, you should contact a knowledgeable New Jersey race discrimination attorney and discuss your legal options.

Back in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic was just starting to explode here in the United States, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office issued an important guidance and press release. The guidance specifically warned against coronavirus-related harassment in the workplace targeting people of East Asian origin.

That included the importance of employers being pro-active “to stop harassment of one employee by another employee if the employer knows or should have known about it: for example, if one employee has east-Asian heritage and a coworker repeatedly harasses her by claiming that Asian people caused COVID-19 or calling this ‘the Chinese virus.’”

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When you sue for race discrimination, two of the main avenues you can follow to pursue your case are either disparate impact or disparate treatment. Under federal law, disparate impact discrimination occurs when your employer had policies or practices that had a disproportionately negative impact on people of your race. Disparate treatment occurs when you (or you plus others of your race) were treated less favorably than other workers in similar situations who were not members of your race. Each kind of case requires accumulating the right amount and the right kind of proof, and knowing how to use that evidence to its maximum effect, so be sure you have a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney handling your case.

A recent federal case from here in New Jersey is a good example of how a disparate treatment discrimination claim can work. J.D. was a security supervisor at a popular Atlantic City casino. The casino fired him after an incident with a verbally aggressive and apparently intoxicated panhandler.

In that encounter, J.D. used a “leg sweep” move to take the man’s legs out from under him. The panhandler was not physically injured in the takedown. However, the employer nevertheless fired J.D. for using excessive force. J.D., who was African-American, sued the employer for race discrimination.

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As all of America has come to re-assess the way in which minorities and other marginalized people are treated, many have concluded that it is not enough merely to refrain from engaging in harmful biased behavior; one must also be an active participant in stamping out such bigotry. However, what about at your workplace? If a coworker or supervisor is using offensive language that dehumanizes a group, what are your options? Are your options fewer if you’re not a member of that group? Fortunately, whether you are a member of the targeted group or are just an ally, you have some clear rights in New Jersey, so be sure to reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney right away if you are punished at work for speaking up.

Let’s use an example from current events, reported by the New York Times, as a starting point. Very recently, an announcer for a Major League Baseball team, during a moment that was supposed to be off-air but was inadvertently broadcast, used an offensive anti-gay slur. He was later suspended by the TV network that employed him. Even though the slur may have occurred in a moment the announcer believed was off-air, it was undeniably said at the announcer’s workplace while he was “on the job,” and was clearly audible by fellow broadcasters and members of the network’s broadcast production team.

Lots of New Jersey workers can probably relate to having to put up with supervisors or coworkers who regularly shower the workplace with racist, anti-LGBT, anti-woman or other slurs and epithets. But do you really have to “put up with it”?

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A recent survey completed by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and Taft Communications revealed several interesting insights but one undeniably regrettable trend. The survey’s findings suggest that people are reportedly hearing more offensive comments at work. From a legal perspective, an offensive comment may not always be enough to establish a winning Law Against Discrimination case, but it can be an integral ingredient and, sometimes, just a single slur may be all the proof you need to win your case. A knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney can help you analyze the facts of your case and determine what evidence you need to succeed.

The annual “State of Diversity Survey” asked workers how often they heard comments “that could be seen as offensive to racial and ethnic minorities; women; Muslims; Jews;” and LGBTQ+ people. Specifically, the survey asked workers, “have you overheard things at work that might be considered offensive to certain groups” during the past year?

The number of respondents, in all categories, who reported hearing these offensive comments either “occasionally” or “very often” was at the highest levels since the poll launched, and every category had a marked increase from last year. Workers who heard comments potentially offensive to racial and ethnic minorities rose 12% from last year to 28%. Respondents reported hearing misogynistic comments (up 10% to 24%), homophobic comments (up 11% to 23%), Islamophobic comments (up 13% to 23%) and anti-Semitic comments (up 10% to 20%), all of which were the highest levels ever recorded in the survey, which began in 2016.

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Too many people think that, because they have a strong knowledge of the facts of their discrimination case, and perhaps a certain degree of understanding of the law, they can handle their case without representation from a skilled New Jersey employment attorney. That’s almost always a mistake. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of legal or procedural traps that a skilled employment attorney avoids every day but that can readily ensnare you, as a layperson, if you try to “go it alone.”

A recent federal case is a regrettable example. The employee, K.K., was an Asian-American man of Korean origin who worked for a financial services firm. During his time there, he allegedly suffered many forms of harassment, including a coworker “trampling the floor” near him. K.K. complained to a manager, but to no avail.

The employer eventually fired K.K. in 2018. The terminated worker, who was in his late 50s by this time, filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and, later, sued for age discrimination, national origin discrimination and race discrimination in federal court.

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According to a recently filed federal lawsuit, K.R., an African-American man who worked in a New Jersey manufacturing facility for a decade and a half, suffered a horrific array of extreme instances of racial discrimination. At this point in time, the acts of race discrimination in K.R.’s case are just allegations – they have not yet been proven in a court of law. Nevertheless, K.R.’s case is a useful one for workers of color in New Jersey to look at, as it serves as an important reminder that you don’t need hundreds or dozens (or even multiple) instances of discrimination in order to have a successful case. With even just a single instance of severe discrimination, you may have a winning case. To be sure you have the strongest case possible to present to the court, reach out to an experienced New Jersey racial discrimination attorney as soon as possible.

According to a report in mycentraljersey.com, the racism-fueled harassment allegedly began just two months after K.R. started his job. First, two white employees allegedly vandalized his vehicle. K.R. reported it, and even after the white employees admitted what they’d done, the employer merely paid for the damages, but took no “remedial or disciplinary” action against those employees, according to the lawsuit.

One year later, a Hispanic employee allegedly told K.R. and two African-American co-workers that they’d been assigned to work in the workplace’s freezer because “the three of you are” [N-words]. (There allegedly was an additionally profane slur preceding the N-word.)

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On April 7, Gov. Phil Murphy ended the state of emergency for an additional 30 days. While the protective measures currently in places are necessary to flatten the curve and save lives, they are having a negative impact on some businesses. Many employers, due to the recent financial setbacks, have begun (or have begun exploring) furloughing or laying off groups of employees. Even during these difficult economic times, the current pandemic does not give employers the freedom to engage in illegal discrimination. That includes employers engaging in layoffs. If you think you were laid off on an illegal basis, be sure you contact an experienced New Jersey employment attorney promptly.

The EEOC composed a recent document warning employers that they should proceed with care when approaching potential layoffs, so that it does end up engaging in illegal discrimination through its layoff process. New Jersey law is very clear that employer policies or actions that predominantly harm people of a protected group, even if they are neutral on their faces, are often illegal. As the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) has stated, if a policy or action “has a disparate impact on a protected group and is not related to [the ability] to perform important job duties, it may be deemed unlawful.”

For example, an employer might prefer to use a reduction in force to reduce salary expenses by laying some of its higher-paid employees. If the employer proceeds incorrectly, its reduction in force may lay off predominantly older employees in favor of younger people.

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There are certain employment practices that are obviously discriminatory. An employer who openly refuses to hire any LGBT+ person, a supervisor who jokes about all Mexicans being lazy or an HR manager who opines that “pregnancy always makes a woman crazy” are all obvious things. A lot of instances of discrimination aren’t nearly this obvious. Something as seemingly benign (and non-discriminatory) as a letter from the federal government about a worker’s employment eligibility verification paperwork can be the trigger for that employer to engage in illegal practices. If your employer has taken adverse employment action against you (such as forcing you onto unpaid leave or firing you) because it received a “no match” letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA), your employer may have violated the law. Contact a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney promptly to find out what you can do.

In March 2019, the federal government began sending “Employer Correction Request” notices, which are often more commonly known as “no match” letters, to employers. This March, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, Department of Labor and the Attorney General published a joint “Dear Employer” guidance letter to provide employers and employees with useful information and to help employers steer clear of actions that potentially violate New Jersey law.

On the federal employment eligibility verification form, also known as the I-9 form, is something that most all of us have filled out at some point when starting a new job. An employee discloses their name and Social Security number. “No match” letters, which the federal government stopped entirely in 2012 but restarted last year, are letters from the Social Security Administration that inform an employer that the name and the number contained on an employee’s I-9 form don’t match.

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When you have been the victim of discrimination on the job in New Jersey, it is very important that you take action right away. Make sure that starts with speaking to an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney. You only have a limited amount of time to file your discrimination claim and, if you wait too long, you could lose out entirely. Your knowledgeable attorney can help you identify exactly when that deadline is in your case and help you get everything you need together and submitted before that deadline passes.

Even if your case potentially seems to be endangered by that filing deadline, there may be options that still allow you to proceed. Take, for example, S.M., a teacher’s assistant. She had some pretty strong evidence in her race discrimination case, including proof that, during her 23 years in the school district, her supervisor reassigned her 19 times, which was allegedly an “unheard of” number of reassignments “given the large number of available employees.”

The employee also asserted that the district passed her over for a promotion that went a Caucasian employee who was “much less experienced and capable.” S.M.’s supervisor also allegedly had a racially biased approach to disciplining employees, taking negative actions against African American employees more often than against white employees.

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