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How a Very Hostile Work Environment Led to One New Jersey Police Officer and Navy Reservist’s Receiving a $1.7M Damages Award

A New Jersey police officer’s successful lawsuit asserting both military service and sexual orientation discrimination ended with a damages award that exceeded $1.75 million, according to a recent report. While what the employee endured was terrible, the outcome of his case is educational to others working in New Jersey in multiple ways. The outcome should remind any New Jersey worker victimized by discrimination that they have options, and that those options can lead to substantial compensation. Contact an experienced New Jersey employment attorney right away to learn more about the options you have in your discrimination case.

The police officer, K.H., worked in the Monmouth County borough of Sea Girt. The officer was a member of the Navy reserves during his time with the Sea Girt police. According to the report, the officer’s chief made statements that indicated that the chief thought the officer was a gay man or was bisexual. (He was neither.)

The chief engaged in a lengthy pattern of sexual harassment and discrimination. According to the officer’s lawsuit filing, the chief:

  • Created a fake license plate for the officer’s car that said “I’m gay”.
  • Said all Navy men were gay.
  • Called the officer various demeaning slurs, such as a slang word for female genitalia and slang word for a sex act.
  • Told the officer that the police force would never hire or promote another military person.
  • Drew male genitalia and attached it to a cut-out of the officer’s face, placing the doctored images at different places around the department’s headquarters.
  • Told another officer that K.H. was cheating on his wife with a male officer in the department.

These disparaging acts had the effect of not only harming the officer’s emotional well-being at work, but also harming his stature in the department. The officer was denied a promotion on two occasions because of his military service and the chief’s belief that he was gay or bisexual.

This victimized officer’s case points out a few things that are worth noting if you work in New Jersey. One is that workers in New Jersey are fully protected against discrimination based upon military service. Between federal law (USERRA) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination as amended in 2017, discrimination based on a worker’s current or former military service is not allowed. That includes workers who are members of the military reserves.

Additionally, you do not have to be an LGBT person to be the victim of sexual orientation discrimination. If your employer believes you’re gay and discriminates against you because of it, you can pursue a claim of sexual orientation discrimination, even if you are actually heterosexual.

‘Clear and convincing’ proof of egregious or outrageous conduct may net punitive damages

What’s more, if you have evidence that shows that your employer behaved in a particularly egregious way, then you may be able to recover an additional form of damages, which is punitive damages. Any type of employment discrimination is wrong on many levels, including legally. Not all types of illegal discrimination, though, involve conduct that allows a worker to recover punitive damages. For that, the employee needs clear and convincing proof that upper management within the employer’s organization engaged in egregious or outrageous conduct.

In K.H.’s case, the jury concluded that, not only did he have proof both military discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination, but also that the discrimination he endured allowed him to receive punitive damages. In all, the jury awarded $262,000 in lost income and benefits, $500,000 in emotional distress and $1,000.000 in punitive damages, reported.

The bad news is that, even to this day, some places of employment have upper management that turns the workplace into a hostile and vulgar place. The good news is that, today, there are protections in place under the law and the compensation available to you may be significant. To discuss your options, contact the skilled New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out our knowledgeable and experienced attorneys can help you.

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