Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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Anyone that’s every worked in an office environment knows that there are certain awkward interpersonal interactions that one must navigate in order to succeed in the workplace. There are things that you’d rather avoid, but sometimes you don’t, just so you can be sure you’re seen as a good “team player.” For one Atlantic County school system employee, though, her effort to be a “team player” eventually turned for the worse and allegedly made her workplace a hostile environment.

That alleged hostile work environment eventually landed the employee, according to a nj.com report, a $185,000 settlement. If you think you were the victim of a hostile environment at work, you should contact an experienced New Jersey hostile work environment attorney about your case.

According to the employee’s complaint, problems started after a new business administrator, P.Y., came on board at the school district and expressed to P.B., who was a secretary for the district, that he was physically attracted to one of P.B.’s friends. P.Y. alleged asked P.B. to facilitate a meeting with the friend, who was also a secretary working for the district, imploring P.B. to “hook a brother up.” P.B. asked the administrator to stop, but he didn’t.

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Non-disclosure obligations in cases involving sexual harassment have come under increasing scrutiny in recent months and years, and deservedly so. Some non-disclosure rules can potentially aid survivors by shielding their privacy. However, if written too broadly, these rules run the risk of harming, not helping, survivors of harassment. For example, under the current rules, if you’re a New Jersey state employee, you risk losing your job if you discuss a sexual harassment complaint – even if you were the victim. The state recently announced that it had re-drafted the rule in the hopes of avoiding creating a “chilling effect” on victims’ reporting their harassment, nj.com reported.

Whether you are a government employee or work in the private sector, if you’ve been sexually harassed at work, you may have various options to receive the compensation you deserve for the harm you suffered. Contact an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment attorney to find out more.

As an example of how the state employee rule, prior to its re-drafting, could hurt victims of sexual harassment consider the case of V.U., as reported by nj.com. V.U. was a woman who worked as a procurement specialist for the state’s Department of Treasury for two years, from 2014-16. According to the specialist, her supervisor subjected her to “pervasive sexual harassment,” including stalking, unwelcome physical contact and sexual propositions.

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It takes a lot to succeed in a New Jersey discrimination lawsuit. You need proof you were a member of protected class (race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, etc.), evidence that you suffered harm at work (termination, demotion, change of job duties, reduction in hours, reduction in pay, etc.) based on that membership and proof that any legitimate reason the employer gave for its action was really just a pretext for discrimination.

But you can have all that and still lose. In fact, you can have all that and never even get your day in court. How? Procedural errors, which can include things like filing too late, after the deadline has passed. Make a mistake like this and your case may be dismissed without any of your factual evidence ever getting before a court. This is one reason among countless ones why it pays to have an experienced and diligent New Jersey discrimination attorney on your side.

The limitations period for filing a discrimination lawsuit in New Jersey is two years. There are many reasons why you may need to wait to file until very near the deadline. When you’ve filed close to the deadline, your skilled counsel can help you overcome arguments by the defense that your filing was tardy when it was actually on time.

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If your supervisor at work demands that you give him sexual favors or else lose your job, and you report that harassment to your employer and your employer does nothing to the offender, then you may know that you can go to court against both your employer and the supervisor. But, what if the harasser is someone who isn’t employed by your employer? Does that difference mean that you have no case? The answer is no, it does not mean that. Depending on the facts of your case, you may still have options. One option to which you definitely should avail yourself is reaching out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney about your situation.

A recent federal case from neighboring Pennsylvania (Hewitt v. BS Transportation of Illinois, Civ. No. 18-712) tackled this issue of harassment by non-employees. C.H., the allegedly victimized employee, worked as a freight driver for a transportation company. The alleged problems started in 2014, beginning with sexual advances by an employee of a client. Allegedly, the harassment included both sexual comments and gestures and eventually escalated to becoming physical, with the harasser grabbing the driver “by the buttocks with one hand and shoving” him against a freight car.

According to the driver’s lawsuit, he reported the assault. Allegedly, C.H.’s own supervisor told that the matter would be handled, but no action was ever taken against the harasser.

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If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment or discrimination at work, you may be entitled to sue and receive compensation for the damages that you suffered. That you may have already known. You also have the right to settle your action out of court, in which you receive a payment from the other side in exchange for your dismissing your case. This, too, you may have already known. What you may not have known, however, is that New Jersey in on the cusp of changing the way that settlements in these situations are drawn up. Specifically, the state is close to enacting a law that would make any provisions in such agreements that require the harassed or discriminated employee to remain silent to be unenforceable.

As nj.com has reported in early February, the bill that would erect such a rule has passed both houses and needs only Governor Murphy’s signature. Back in 2017, the legislative body proposed similar legislation banning so-called “gag” or non-disclosure provisions in cases involving sexual harassment and discrimination. That bill did not become law.

The state senate tried again in 2018, proposing Senate Bill 121. Senate Bill 121’s enactment into law would mean that New Jersey workers would have one of the broadest umbrellas of protection against these sorts of non-disclosure agreements, protecting all workers asserting any kind of claim of discrimination, harassment or retaliation under the Law Against Discrimination.

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The high visibility of movements like #metoo has changed many things about workplaces when it comes to sexual harassment. Some employers are rightly taking long, hard looks at established practices and assessing whether or not they are healthy or harmful. That includes holiday parties. Some employers are changing the way they do their parties, while others are doing away with them entirely. While eliminating these parties completely may not be necessary, certain changes are potentially helpful in working to stave off the sexual harassment that was a staple at too many work-related holiday events. If you have suffered sexual harassment at a holiday party or anywhere else work-related, be sure to contact a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney about your situation.

CBS News reported that a survey conducted by an executive outplacement firm showed that fully 35% of businesses declined to hold holiday parties in 2018, the highest percentage since 2009, when the U.S. economy was still feeling the effects of the recession. Of the 65% holding parties, more half (58%) “reported addressing the #MeToo movement with their staff this year.”

Many companies holding parties are being proactive to minimize ingredients for harassment. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that some have eliminated alcohol from their seasonal events completely. One business, a California-based employment search website, took that action this year after problems last year. According to the report, the company’s 2017 party included not one but two drunken employees (one female and one male) who groped others at the party.

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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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