Phillips & Associates
Phillips & Associates
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With coronavirus numbers surging, Gov. Phil Murphy has stated that a new statewide lockdown is “on the table,” according to news reports. Whether or not the state enters a new lockdown, the state’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases will likely lead to more and more employers considering remote work for their employees. That, in turn, will likely mean more and more use of technology platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. However, as we’ve seen from recent headlines and news stories, this type of work environment presents its own risks when it comes to discrimination and sexual harassment. If you’ve suffered discrimination or harassment in a virtual meeting, don’t wait… reach out to an experienced New Jersey workplace discrimination attorney today to discuss your legal options.

The use of new technology like Zoom has proven to be fertile ground for both embarrassing blunders and offensive misconduct. These incidents have included a woman who inadvertently broadcast herself on the toilet during a Zoom call; a Brazilian government worker accidentally captured having sex during a Zoom call, and a prominent TV legal analyst who accidentally broadcast his act of self-gratification during an election simulation call with colleagues from the New Yorker.

Some of these stories may yield laughs from readers, but this actually points to a serious issue. Sexual harassment can occur in many ways and isn’t limited to face-to-face encounters. Being involuntarily exposed to unwanted comments, jokes, or material of a sexual nature can also be a form of sexual harassment, even when it happens over Zoom.

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In late November and early December, reports began surfacing that approval of a COVID-19 vaccine might be near and that a ‘massive’ network designed to distribute the vaccine was ready to get millions of doses to Americans. While many may be eagerly anticipating a COVID-19 vaccine, others may be viewing it with a more skeptical eye. Some opposed to getting vaccinated may soon find themselves potentially forced to choose between getting an unwanted vaccine or losing their jobs. For certain New Jerseyans, an employer forcing a mandatory vaccine upon them may represent a violation of the Law Against Discrimination and, with the help of a skilled New Jersey employment discrimination attorney, provide the foundation of a winning civil claim in court.

In several circumstances, an employer that establishes a policy requiring all employees to receive a vaccine may be acting legally under the Law Against Discrimination. Recently, the state legislature passed a law that required all home health care workers, nursing home staff and hospital workers to receive the flu vaccine. By analogy and logical extension, any policy by one of these types of employers to require the COVID-19 vaccine would generally be permissible.

Note those words “several” and “generally” in that preceding paragraph. Whether you work at a hospital, a bank or at a construction site, there are certain situations in which your employer is limited in what it can do. Your employer cannot, for example, make you get a vaccine if you can show that receiving that vaccine would be seriously medically harmful to you. If you have a valid medical exemption and your employer refuses to honor it, that refusal could represent the basis of a winning disability discrimination case in New Jersey.

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Here in New Jersey, there are roughly 250 Catholic schools across the state, employing many thousands of teachers and other education professionals. Because these schools are not just educational institutions but also religious institutions, the First Amendment gives them greater latitude when it comes to employment decisions like hiring, firing, etc. The law does not, however, give them carte blanche to discriminate whenever and however they see fit. If you’re been fired from your job with a religious school because you allegedly violated a sexual orientation or sex-related “morality” requirement, it may be that, even with the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections, your employer has committed illegal discrimination that can entitle you to receive compensation. Reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to find out more.

Two of the more common scenarios in which these issues of law come up involve either an unmarried pregnant employee, or a gay or lesbian employee who gets married. V.C. was an example of the former.

V.C., who worked at a Catholic school in Union County, started out a teacher for toddlers and later moved to a position teaching art. In January 2014, she told her principal she was pregnant. The principal fired V.C., who was not married at the time, just a few weeks later.

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If you are familiar with commercial airplanes, then you probably know the name “McDonnell Douglas” from its many well-known jets, including the DC 10. For people, such as an experienced New Jersey employment attorney, who are knowledgeable about discrimination law, the name “McDonnell Douglas” is familiar for a different reason. That’s because, in a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case bearing the company’s name, the high court created an important framework that victims of workplace discrimination, including those in New Jersey, still use today in their lawsuits.

The “McDonnell Douglas framework,” as it is called, comes in three parts. The first hurdle involves you, as the worker who was harmed by discrimination, establishing a “prima facie case” of discrimination.

A prima facie case of discrimination involves showing that you were a member of a protected class (like age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.), that you were qualified for the job you held, and that you suffered an adverse employment action (such as demotion, termination, reduction in hours, etc.) because of your membership in that protected class.

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On April 24, 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act. That new law represented a huge step forward when it comes to closing the wage gap between men and women, and the fruits of that new law are starting to be seen. Recent reports of successful outcomes in equal pay litigation cases have started to emerge. If you have been hurt by the wage gap, you should take heart from these recent reports. Armed with this new law and the important new legal options it provides, you have fewer reasons than ever to delay retaining a skilled New Jersey employment attorney if you think you’ve been harmed by discriminatory pay practices.

The Equal Pay Act allows a harmed worker to pursue a civil lawsuit. What is special and noteworthy about this kind of lawsuit is that the Equal Pay Act says that, if you prevail, you may recover treble damages. You may only have heard of “treble” in music class but, in the law, “treble” means triple. So, in other words, if you can prove that you lost out on $200,000 in income due to an equal pay violation, you may be able to recover a damages award of $600,000.

There’s an additional subtle benefit that the possibility of triple damages provides to harmed workers: it gives employers added incentive to settle equal pay lawsuits prior to trial.

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An ancient Chinese proverb says that a “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This wisdom recognizes that, to accomplish any undertaking, you must first take that initial step (and, implicitly, keep taking each step and clearing each hurdle one at a time) until you reach your destination. Your discrimination or harassment case can be a lot like that. It may seem massive, overwhelming and intimidating at first but, with the aid of a skilled New Jersey employment attorney, you can clear all the hurdles and achieve a positive result… one step at a time.

One of the most important steps in any discrimination case is clearing the hurdle presented by the defense’s motion for summary judgment. If you don’t clear this hurdle, then your case is thrown out without a trial and you recover nothing. Additionally, for workers who are open to settlement, it is often the case that employers’ settlement offers will become much larger and fairer after they’ve lost their motions for summary judgment as compared to before that outcome.

Defeating a defense motion for summary judgment does not require providing the court with as much proof as you’d need to win at trial. For example, look at the recently decided case of N.H., a New Jersey college professor.

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In this blog and elsewhere, you may see phrases like “act today” and “don’t delay” when considering contacting an experienced New Jersey employment attorney if you think you’ve been the victim of workplace discrimination and/or harassment. That’s good advice, because, while there are many reasons people might feel the urge to delay taking action, none of them will help, and none will be any comfort, when a potentially winnable discrimination case gets dismissed because it was filed too late.

Consider the lawsuit filed by S.J., a legal administrative assistant in the Morristown office of a major multi-state law firm, as a cautionary tale. According to the woman, I.S., one of the male attorneys working in the office’s labor and employment department began engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct in 2014, including sexually explicit texts and non-consensual touching of her breasts and genitals.

Allegedly, the assistant complained about the attorney to her office administrator but, rather than take action, the administrator told the assistant “that if she was unhappy…, she should look for another job.” Eventually, the firm fired S.J. in June 2017.

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As anyone who’s lived long enough knows, doing the right thing something carries a price in life. However, doing the right thing by standing up in opposition to discrimination and/or harassment at work should not carry a cost when it comes to your job… but too often it does. If you have been the victim of workplace retaliation after you stood up against discrimination – whether that discrimination was targeted toward you or someone else – you may be entitled to recover substantial compensation through a lawsuit. Reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment law attorney right away to find out more about your options.

A recent case settlement making news here in New Jersey allegedly involved an instance of exactly that sort of retaliation. The employee, K.D., first accepted a job with the police department in 1996. K.D. rose to become the first (and only) female lieutenant in that police department, according to a mycentraljersey.com report.

The woman’s lawsuit alleged that department leadership routinely discriminated against women and racial minorities, hiring only 11 women (including K.D.) and 16 African Americans to its 105-member force.

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Transgender people are one group that experiences a very high degree of discrimination at work. A 2015 report revealed that 27% have been denied a promotion, not been hired or been fired just in the preceding year. Fortunately, here in New Jersey, the law has strong protections against workplace discrimination based on gender identity and/or expression so, if you’ve lost a job, lost a promotion, been denied employment or otherwise been harmed in the workplace because you are trans, you should contact a New Jersey employment attorney promptly.

For some trans people, the potential for discrimination is even greater than most other trans individuals. S.S., a process assistant at Amazon’s South Corporate Center in Ewing, was one of those people. S.S. was a trans man and, as of June 2019, also was pregnant, according to a nj.com report.

Being trans and being pregnant can be an especially difficult and even dangerous time for some workers. S.S. had disclosed his pregnancy to his employer, but those whom he told did not keep it confidential, according to his lawsuit. Shortly thereafter, S.S. allegedly began experiencing harassment. A co-worker allegedly questioned S.S.’s use of the men’s restroom, stating “Aren’t you pregnant?” Managers allegedly began criticizing his work more and, when he complained about the harassment, human resources allegedly placed him on leave, according to the report.

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Without question, progress has been made when it comes to eradicating discrimination and harassment in New Jersey workplaces. Sometimes, though, a case comes along and reminds us all that harassment is far from eliminated… and that serious dangers still exist in some New Jersey workplaces. If you endured harassment on the job, don’t ever be fooled into thinking that it is something you just have to accept and “put up with.” Instead, reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney who can provide you with options to help you protect yourself (and perhaps others in your workplace, too.)

When it comes to reminding everyone that workplace harassment is still a serious problem in this state, a story from a police department in Union County undeniably does just that. As reported by the New York Post and mycentraljersey.com, the work environment at this particular police department was one where calling it “hostile” might be an understatement.

The central harasser, according to the complaint, was an internal affairs officer who frequently wielded an extremely large sex toy at the workplace. Allegedly, the sex toy’s appearance was not just an occasional thing, as one officer was “tortured” with the device “on an almost daily basis.”

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