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NJ Supreme Court: Employers Cannot Force Employees to Accept Shortened Period for Pursuing Discrimination Claims

For many workers, times are hard and jobs can be scarce. Sometimes, this may place employers in an advantageous position relative to their job applicants. While the law often gives the two sides a lot of freedom in terms of contracting for employment, there are also some distinct limits. A New Jersey Supreme Court case from a few months ago illustrated one such boundary. The high court ruled that an employer and an employee cannot, through a contractual agreement, shorten the length of time an employee has to pursue his rights under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

The employee in this case was a native of Argentina who was in search of a job in 2007. He sought to apply for a helper position with a furniture and mattress retailer. The employment application, which was printed in English (a language in which the man was not proficient), contained several declarations at the end. One of these limited the period of time in which the employee could sue the employer, capping the time period at six months.

In 2010, the employee, who had been promoted to a driver position, significantly hurt his knee at work and could not return to full-time work for six months. Two days after the driver restarted full-time work, the employer fired him.

Seven months after the termination, the employee launched a lawsuit, alleging that the employer discriminated against him based upon his disability. The employer asked the trial court to award it summary judgment, which that court did. The contractual clause shortening the time period for filing suit was clear and unambiguous and was not unreasonable or against public policy, according to the court.

The Appellate Division upheld that ruling, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the employee. The high court ruled that the Law Against Discrimination’s two-year limitations period for bringing a discrimination case against an employer was a “public-purpose imperative” and that any contractual clause that shortened this time period was automatically unenforceable because it was contrary to public policy.

The high court reached its decision because, it stated, the employee’s cause of action in this case – a Law Against Discrimination violation – was not a “simple private claim.” Had the two sides been disputing some other paragraph in the employment contract, the six-month limitation period might have been enforceable. However, the Law Against Discrimination and lawsuits arising under it serve a vital public interest in advancing the public policy of eradicating discrimination, including in New Jersey workplaces. Allowing an employer to artificially shorten the limitations period via an employment contract “hampers enforcement of the public interest.”

What does this mean for you? It means that there are certain rights that your employer cannot force you to restrict just to obtain a job. For answers to these and other questions regarding employment discrimination, talk to the New Jersey disability discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Our team has decades of combined experience zealously representing employees and job applicants in New Jersey when they’ve been victims of sexual harassment, discrimination, or other unlawful employment practices. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys.

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