Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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NJ State HouseMost people in the country have, over the last several weeks, become familiar with the Harvey Weinstein story. Multiple accusers have alleged that the Hollywood producer sexually assaulted or harassed them. Some were actresses, while others were assistants who worked for the producer. Several of these allegations date back to the early to mid-1990s. Some have asked why the producer’s alleged victims waited years, and even decades, to speak out. While there are numerous reasons why a victim might delay in speaking out publicly, for some, there was a very black-and-white one:  they reached a settlement of their legal claims against the producer, and one of the terms of those agreements was their silence. If you are a victim of New Jersey sexual harassment or sex discrimination, potential settlements are one area in which an experienced attorney can be invaluable. Your experienced counsel can help you assess whether a settlement is in your best interest and, if you were to sign, exactly what your contractual obligations would be under that agreement.

A non-disclosure term is a common clause in almost any settlement agreement that resolves the potential legal claims one party might have against another party. The potential defendant pays the potential plaintiff a sum of money, the plaintiff forever gives up her right to sue, and both sides agree never to discuss the confidential details of the agreement. If a bill currently under consideration in the New Jersey legislature becomes law, that process may change in this state when it comes to sexual harassment and discrimination cases. State Sen. Loretta Weinberg proposed SB 3581, a bill that would prohibit employers from using non-disclosure provisions to keep victims of workplace sexual harassment from speaking up, according to an report.

The bill, as proposed, would not only bar employers from setting up such non-disclosure agreements when the victim was one of sexual harassment, but also apply to any situation in which the employee was a victim of a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The bill would clarify the law to establish explicitly that a non-disclosure agreement in this type of scenario is against New Jersey public policy and, as a result, is unenforceable.

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Holiday PartyIt is that time of year again. The holidays are upon us. For many working individuals, the holidays will also mean holiday parties held by their employers. While holiday parties can be a fun and festive time, they can also be a source of problems for both employees and employers if an employee, perhaps fueled by an abundance of alcohol, crosses the line and engages in sexual harassment. Unfortunately, holiday party-related sexual harassment happens too often, and, if it happens to you, you should promptly reach out to an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment attorney to help you protect your rights.

In many instances, employees are less inhibited at holiday parties than they are in a conventional business setting. Sometimes, this is a result of alcohol. Other times, even without alcohol, the mere presence of the party atmosphere and removal of the office setting influences improper actions. These two factors mean that holiday parties can be, as one New Jersey employment attorney speaking to called them, “a breeding ground for sexual harassment claims.”

There are several ways that employers can be pro-active to reduce the risk of potential cases of sexual harassment at a holiday party. The employer could, for example, eliminate alcohol from the party or could seek to limit consumption. (For example, Huffington Post reported on changes at the Vox Media party in Brooklyn, where that employer decided that it would “ramp up the food and cut down on the drinks.” That new practice included giving each person two drink tickets instead of having an open bar.) The employer could also eliminate practices like “gag gift” exchanges, since some gag gifts could be inappropriate.

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woman walkingAn important New Jersey sexual harassment ruling from the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals is useful for employees who may have been victims of sexual harassment at work. The new ruling highlights who can qualify as a “supervisor” for the purposes of triggering employer liability in a sexual harassment case. The new ruling concluded that a foreman who handed out work assignments did qualify, and the woman he allegedly harassed was entitled to pursue her case.

The case involved Michelle, who, in 2011, obtained work as a substitute custodian with the Atlantic City schools. That meant that Michelle performed work on a “fill-in” basis but was not guaranteed a certain amount of work, or any assignments at all. Interested in increasing her volume of work, Michelle introduced herself to several custodial foremen. One foreman allegedly engaged in multiple acts of harassment. There was unwanted groping, invitations to the foreman’s office where the foreman was sitting unclothed, and promises of favorable work assignments in exchange for sex, according to the woman.

Allegedly fearing that her job was in jeopardy, Michelle had sex with the foreman once, but she consistently rejected his advances after that. Following her rejection of the foreman, the custodian believed that the foreman began treating her differently. She notified Human Resources, which investigated and concluded that the custodian did not suffer from sexual harassment or discrimination.

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GavelSometimes, when an employee is a victim of sexual harassment, the employer may respond quickly and appropriately, following well-established procedures and policies that it created in advance. Many other times, though, that’s not the case, and that latter scenario is something that may give rise to a sexual harassment lawsuit. Your New Jersey sexual harassment attorney can help you analyze your case and decide what a good manner to proceed may be.

One case recently decided by the Appellate Division involved an employee working for a chain of convenience and food stores. When the employee started in 1999, the employer gave her a copy of its employment handbook, which included the business’ anti-sexual harassment policies. At an awards dinner in 2010, one of the company’s loss prevention employees allegedly sexually harassed the woman repeatedly.

The woman reported the harassment on a survey related to the dinner. The employer investigated and reprimanded the loss prevention employee, including a formal written admonishment, mandatory attendance at a sexual harassment training session, and prohibition from future contact with the alleged victim.

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