Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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Recent events in the news have triggered a great deal of re-examination when it comes to sexual harassment. One area where that is true is the use of confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements against employees who have alleged being victims of sexual harassment. The state Senate recently contemplated, and passed, a bill that would greatly enhance the protection of harassed workers in this type of circumstance. While New Jersey has not yet banned the use of confidentiality agreements in the resolution of sexual harassment cases, you may have certain options available to you if you’ve signed an agreement in your case but desire not to remain silent. As always, be sure to retain an experienced New Jersey discrimination attorney to assess your options.

Recently these issues of sexual harassment and confidentiality were at the center of a lawsuit. A state government employee allegedly was sexually harassed by a supervisor. After the harassment took place, the employee complained. An investigation was launched but the employer’s investigator allegedly did not complete a full and proper investigation into the employee’s claims. (If true in this situation, this is something that, unfortunately, is an all-too-common occurrence.) What the employer did do, however, was to demand that the allegedly harassed employee sign a confidentiality document that prohibited her from discussion the allegations she had made.

Sometime later, the worker told her husband certain details of her case. After she did that, the employer allegedly constructively terminated her. As part of the case, the employee’s counsel took a very important step. The attorney filed a motion asking the judge to issue an order that would block the employer from enforcing any non-disclosure agreements that bar plaintiffs (or would-be plaintiffs) from divulging details of their cases publicly.

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An employer might have many reasons for desiring to resolve a discrimination or sexual harassment case through arbitration instead of litigation in court. Generally, however, the employer does this because the employer believes that the employee will obtain a more favorable outcome through litigation than arbitration. To that end, many employers request or require their employees to sign an agreement consenting to arbitrate disputes that arise related to the employment relationship, including harm resulting from employment discrimination or sexual harassment. Even if you signed such an agreement, you may still have an opportunity to pursue your case in court instead of arbitration, if you can prove that part or all of your arbitration agreement was invalid or unenforceable. To learn more about your options, be sure to reach out to a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney.

D.M.’s case was a recent example of this type of dispute. D.M. accepted a job as a driver for a delivery service in June 2017. The driver signed several documents electronically, including one entitled “Arbitration Agreement.” Ten weeks after D.M.’s employment began, the employer fired her. A month later, the driver filed a Law Against Discrimination action against the employer. She alleged that one of the company’s managers made “sexually provocative comments about” her body and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on sex and her sexual orientation.

Unsurprisingly, the employer asked the court to enter an order compelling both sides to arbitrate the dispute. When your employer does that, you may still be able to go to court. To do that, you have to persuade the court that the agreement you signed was not enforceable for one or more reasons. You can assert that there were certain types of fraud or duress, or you can argue that the agreement was unclear and ambiguous. In D.M.’s case, both the trial court and the Appellate Division declared the arbitration agreement to be valid and the employer entitled to demand arbitration, despite the employee’s arguments of a lack of clarity and presence of ambiguity.

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Even though the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace has been brought out of the shadows and into the light in recent years, many studies still show that a substantial percentage of victims don’t report their harassers to their employers. Some say they fear they won’t be believed. Others fear they will be believed and will suffer retaliation for speaking up, up to and including losing their jobs.

Regardless of the exact reasons, a failure to report harassment to an employer should not always be an automatic ticket to dismissal of your sexual harassment case and, in New Jersey, it’s not. Under New Jersey law, an employer’s declaration of “We knew nothing and she told us nothing” is not an absolute defense in a sexual harassment lawsuit. If you’ve suffered harassment at work, don’t let your lack of reporting deter you from taking legal action. Contact a skilled New Jersey sexual harassment attorney to learn more about your options.

The case of a North Jersey police lieutenant serves as one recent example of this principle. D.U. had worked for the police department since 1992. The employment was without incident for a long time but, starting in 2013 or 2014, the lieutenant’s direct supervisor, the city’s Director of Police, allegedly started making undesired sexual advances toward D.U. The lieutenant rejected those advances and, according to her complaint, suffered negative workplace consequences. The director allegedly began treating her differently than male peers, began assigning her less desirable duties (patrol work) and began an internal affairs investigation against her.

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All 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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A 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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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.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.

In 2011, the employer fired M.V. Eleven months later, M.V. filed a sexual harassment lawsuit under the Law Against Discrimination. At the end of the trial, the jury ruled in favor of the employee, awarding her $300,000 for economic loss and $225,000 for emotional distress. The employee also received an award of $402,000 in attorneys’ fees and $20,000 in costs.

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In 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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The recent news from a small Union County borough was genuinely shocking. Several employees of the borough’s police brought a Law Against Discrimination action against the borough, asserting that several fellow employees, including the chief, had engaged in numerous actions that created a hostile work environment. The array of allegations ranged from absurd to dangerous to repugnant. If proven, the allegations would almost certainly amount to a hostile work environment. The allegations are a reminder that a hostile work environment can happen in a variety of settings, and, if it has happened to you, you should reach out to a skilled New Jersey sexual harassment attorney about your situation.

The complaint, filed on May 11 and reported by nj.com a week later, put forward some serious allegations. According to the plaintiffs, the misdeeds included the extensive use of a blue sex toy in various jokes (and associated homophobic comments), the department’s top detective’s penchant for removing all of his clothes and trying to surprise co-workers in the locker room while he was naked, and a grotesque practice involving one officer’s genitals, the food or drink of unsuspecting co-workers, and photographic images of the combination. Furthermore, there was an allegation of an employee asking to sniff a female employee’s chair.

Then there were homophobic, sexist, and racist jokes, according to the complaint. In addition, the plaintiffs had photographic proof of the detective’s use of the sex toy and video of one male employee being harassed with the same toy.

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Outside New Jersey, entertainment giant ESPN made headlines recently when one of its former employees filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer. The woman asserted, as the basis for her sexual harassment claim, that one of the network’s well-known on-air male personalities sent her sexually harassing texts, including an unsolicited one in which the man was shirtless, according to the Chicago Tribune. Inside the state, recent New Jersey sexual harassment actions have included allegations of texts requesting oral sex and attaching pictures of the sender’s uncovered genitals. With all of this sexting in the news, it is important as an employee to know:  when does sexting become workplace sexual harassment? The answer often depends on the exact facts of your case. If you think you have been sexually harassed at work through texts, emails, or other electronic correspondence, you should reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney promptly.

The most recent news was the sizable settlement in a state government worker’s sexual harassment case against a supervisory employee, according to an nj.com report. Latrece was an employee for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. She was presumably focused on the division’s mission of ensuring “the safety, permanency, and well-being of children.” The manager of the Paterson office, however, was apparently focused on something else, according to Latrece’s lawsuit. In addition to various other sexually harassing actions (that included lifting her clothes, grabbing her breasts, and exposing his genitals), the manager texted lewd messages to Latrece, according to the woman’s complaint. The manager also allegedly sent the employee images of his naked genitals via text message.

The state settled the case, agreeing to pay Latrece $350,000.

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One of the recurring challenges that many people in the workplace face these days is the employer’s requirement that they sign documents waiving certain rights in exchange for employment or continued employment. These agreements can include provisions like clauses that mandate arbitration of all work-related disputes between employer and employee. That can possibly mean that, even if you have very strong proof of illegal harassment or discrimination, you may be blocked from getting that case in front of a jury. As is true of any legal document, especially those that involve forfeiting rights, know before you sign and consult a knowledgeable New Jersey harassment lawyer about the impact those documents could have on you.

One worker whose signature did hurt her harassment case was Kuashema, a salesperson for a furniture store in Hudson County. According to the saleswoman, hers was a hostile work environment. She alleged in a lawsuit that she was subjected to music that used the N-word along with various misogynistic slurs. She also asserted that the N-word and a certain anti-gay slur were frequently used at her work. According to Kuashema, she complained about the work environment conditions, but, not only did the hostile work environment conditions continue, but also the employer fired her in retaliation for making a complaint.

The saleswoman was not able to go forward to trial in her lawsuit, however. Her inability to do so was not a result of any factual weakness in her case. Kuashema’s case was thrown out because, while she still worked for the furniture company, she signed something the employer called the “Associate’s Agreement & Consent.” This document included within it a provision that said that employees agreed to resolve all employment disputes by utilizing the Employee Arbitration Program. In other words, the agreement had a mandatory arbitration clause in it, and Kuashema was, as a result, locked into arbitrating instead of litigating her claim.

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