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How to Succeed in Keeping Your State Court Sexual Harassment Lawsuit in New Jersey State Court

Once you’ve decided that you need to undertake a sexual harassment lawsuit in New Jersey, there will be many more vital decisions you’ll have to make. Each choice may substantially impact how much compensation you receive or may affect whether or not your case gets to trial. Given the profound importance of these decisions, make sure you have the advice you need from an experienced New Jersey employment lawyer before you make those critical selections.

One of those choices is whether to litigate in state court or federal court. As a sexual harassment plaintiff, you might decide that you’d get a fairer hearing in state court and therefore pursue your case there. Whatever the reason, if you and your legal team have selected state court, there are likely very good reasons for it, so you may need to fight aggressively to keep your case in state court.

Here’s an example of what we mean. J.L., a woman who worked at a fast-food restaurant in Old Bridge, had a male co-worker who allegedly subjected her to multiple forms of harassment, including grabbing her buttocks, putting his hands on her shoulders to pin her down in a chair, and attempting to grab her genital area as he walked past.

E.B., a manager at the restaurant, allegedly did nothing to help, failing “to take any steps whatsoever to remediate the situation or to redress” the male worker’s “egregiously abusive conduct.”

J.L.’s lawsuit against the manager and the employer, which she filed in state court in Middlesex County, included four claims. The first three involved violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, and the fourth was a claim under the New Jersey Declaratory Judgment Act. That fourth claim sought a declaration from the court that the arbitration agreement between the restaurant and J.L. violated New Jersey law and was, as a result, void. The manager attempted to use J.L.’s inclusion of that fourth claim as a basis for moving the case from state court to federal court.

The law says that there are two ways that a case filed in state court can be forced over to federal court. One is something called “diversity jurisdiction,” which requires that at least one plaintiff and at least one defendant are citizens of different states. The other is “federal question jurisdiction,” which happens when one or more of the plaintiff’s claims necessarily implicate one or more federal laws.

In J.L.’s case, she was a New Jersey citizen, the manager was a New Jersey citizen and the employer (a corporation) was a New Jersey citizen, so there was no diversity jurisdiction. The manager, however, argued that, by seeking an order declaring the arbitration agreement void, J.L. had necessarily invoked the Federal Arbitration Act, and raised a federal question.

The Defense Had No Valid Basis for Moving the Case to Federal Court

The federal district court for New Jersey ruled against the manager, explaining that the manager’s argument was incorrect. J.L. never expressly invoked the FAA, and neither she nor any defendant ever asked the court to compel arbitration of the underlying harassment dispute. Even if a party had asked for an order compelling arbitration, that still wouldn’t change the outcome. Federal law has made it very clear that “the FAA is not by itself an independent basis of federal question jurisdiction.”

What this means is that, if you bring a harassment and/or discrimination lawsuit in New Jersey state court and one of the issues is connected to your arbitration agreement, you do not have to choose between abandoning that arbitration-agreement-related claim or else abandon litigating in state court.

Litigating a sexual harassment case successfully is a process of many steps and necessarily involves many critical decisions. Rely on the skilled New Jersey sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates to provide you with the sage advice and effective advocacy you deserve at every step in the process. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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