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How Your New Jersey Employer’s Layoffs Triggered by COVID-19 May Violate Anti-Discrimination Laws

On April 7, Gov. Phil Murphy ended the state of emergency for an additional 30 days. While the protective measures currently in places are necessary to flatten the curve and save lives, they are having a negative impact on some businesses. Many employers, due to the recent financial setbacks, have begun (or have begun exploring) furloughing or laying off groups of employees. Even during these difficult economic times, the current pandemic does not give employers the freedom to engage in illegal discrimination. That includes employers engaging in layoffs. If you think you were laid off on an illegal basis, be sure you contact an experienced New Jersey employment attorney promptly.

The EEOC composed a recent document warning employers that they should proceed with care when approaching potential layoffs, so that it does end up engaging in illegal discrimination through its layoff process. New Jersey law is very clear that employer policies or actions that predominantly harm people of a protected group, even if they are neutral on their faces, are often illegal. As the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) has stated, if a policy or action “has a disparate impact on a protected group and is not related to [the ability] to perform important job duties, it may be deemed unlawful.”

For example, an employer might prefer to use a reduction in force to reduce salary expenses by laying some of its higher-paid employees. If the employer proceeds incorrectly, its reduction in force may lay off predominantly older employees in favor of younger people.

When layoffs lead to “the disproportionate dismissal of older employees,” and you’re one of the older employees laid off, this disproportionate impact based on age may give you the necessary proof of illegal age discrimination. If you pursue an age discrimination case like this, there are some forms of proof that can be especially important. For example, if you have evidence that your employer laid you off but retained younger, less-qualified peers, then that may be a huge aid in winning your case.

Even layoffs based on objective, legitimate criteria may potentially be discriminatory

A reduction in force that disproportionately impacts any group protected by anti-discrimination laws may be proof that illegal discrimination occurred. This is true even if your employer’s standard for making those layoffs was an objective one. The EEOC provided the example of an employer who lays off “the most recently hired employees.” That is, of course, an objective and facially non-discriminatory one, but if it has disproportionate impact on a protected group, then it may still be impermissible.

Take, as an example, a hypothetical North Jersey employer operating a warehouse facility. If that employer has a workforce that is 20% Latino/Latina, but 75% of the people targeted for layoff are Latino/Latina, then that reduction in force may be impermissible, and, if you’re one of the Latino/Latina workers laid off, you may have a winning case of employment discrimination.

Other times, the true motivations are much more nefarious. Say, for example, your office workplace has six pregnant employees, of which you’re one. Your employer makes a reduction in force, eliminating five of the six pregnant workers. Prior to your layoff, you overheard a manager saying that the company needed to “get rid of all these pregnant women around the office because pregnancy makes women go nuts.” That evidence might go a long way in helping you build a successful pregnancy discrimination case.

Even during this time of pandemic, the state and federal laws barring workplace discrimination remain in effect. If your employer has engaged in layoffs recently, and laid you off on an illegal basis due to your age, race, gender, or other matter, you may be entitled to significant compensation. The skilled New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. Our years of experience have helped many, many New Jersey workers achieve legal success after they were harmed by discrimination or harassment. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and see what we can do for you.

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