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Federal Versus New Jersey Age Discrimination and Disability Discrimination Laws: What’s the Difference?

In some situations, you may encounter workplace discrimination that targets you for one specific reason. Other times, you may be the victim of discrimination that spans multiple protected characteristics. (Still other times, the nature of the discrimination may involve a tandem of protected characteristics, such as, for example, discrimination specifically targeting Latina women.) Each of those scenarios may implicate state anti-discrimination law, federal law, or both. Whatever the nature of your circumstance, you can help your case’s chances of success by talking to an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer as soon as possible.

These issues of state anti-discrimination law versus federal law are sometimes quite significant as, in some ways, the procedural requirements between the two can vary in important ways.

Take, for example, the multi-faceted discrimination case of E.D., a woman who worked for an insurance entity. Her complaint alleged that she endured disability discrimination when her employer failed to engage in a good faith interactive process to provide her with a reasonable accommodation after her return to work from emergency surgery.

Eventually, according to the complaint, the employer engaged in age discrimination by terminating E.D. and replacing her with a younger worker.

On those bases, E.D. sued for violations of the Law Against Discrimination, including disability discrimination, age discrimination, and hostile work environment.

The Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

E.D.’s case illustrates some key differences between age discrimination and disability discrimination claims under the LAD versus age discrimination and disability discrimination claims under federal law.

When you’re pursuing federal claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and/or the Americans With Disabilities Act, the law requires you to engage in something called “exhaustion of administrative remedies.” That means that, before you can take your age discrimination or disability discrimination claim to court, you first must file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If yours is a disability discrimination claim under the ADA, you must wait for a response from the EEOC and obtain a “right to sue” letter before heading to court. If yours is an age discrimination case under the ADEA, you also have to file with the EEOC, but you do not have to wait for a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC before suing in court.

By contrast, New Jersey law imposes no requirement of exhaustion of administrative remedies, meaning that you can bring an age discrimination or disability discrimination claim under the LAD in court without having ever filed any complaint with any New Jersey state government agency.

Because E.D. had not filed with EEOC, she could not go forward with her ADEA age discrimination and ADA disability discrimination claims but could proceed with causes of action for age discrimination and disability discrimination under the LAD.

Properly Pleading an Employer’s Failure to Accommodate a Disability

When you’re pleading a failure-to-accommodate claim under the LAD, you have to allege several things, including that (1) your employer knew about your disability, (2) you requested an accommodation, (3) your employer did not make a good faith effort to accommodate you, and (4) you could have been accommodated if your employer had acted in good faith.

As a predecessor to establishing that your employer knew about your disability, you also have to allege that the condition you had qualified as a recognized disability under the LAD. In E.D.’s case, her pleadings did not properly lay out allegations that she had a disability and did not assert that she made a request for accommodation when she returned to work. Those kinds of allegations are essential to stating a viable failure-to-accommodate claim under the LAD.

Sometimes, even a step back can lay the groundwork for a major leap forward. In E.D.’s case, the court dismissed her failure-to-accommodate claim without prejudice. That means that she is free to refile an amended complaint that fixes the pleading deficiencies the court identified. With a properly drafted amended complaint, this worker has the potential to proceed with the failure-to-accommodate claim in addition to the other discrimination claims.

Whether or not your lawsuit involves claims that require the exhaustion of administrative remedies, they inevitably involve procedural obligations and pleading necessities that, if not followed, can derail or delay your case. To make sure you’re satisfying what the law demands, skilled legal representation is key. The diligent New Jersey disability discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. We represent workers in Passaic, Bergen, Morris, Essex, Union, Hudson, Somerset, Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer, Burlington, and Camden Counties, among other areas, and we’re committed to helping workers hurt by discrimination get justice. To find out more, contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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