Phillips & Associates
Phillips & Associates
Phillips & Associates
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“Cancer” is a word that can strike fear in even the bravest of people. Everyone dreads hearing a response from the doctor that starts, “I am detecting a mass and I think we should check it out.” Undergoing cancer treatment, or even just testing for potential cancer, is a serious medical event that can impact every part of your life, both professional and personal. Among all the other fears with which you’ll inevitably have to deal, losing your job due to discrimination shouldn’t be one of them. If that happens to you, be sure to reach out to an experienced New Jersey disability discrimination attorney to discuss your legal options.

W.E., a truck driver from Pennsylvania, was one of those people who had to face those challenges. In late 2015, he underwent surgery to remove a nodule in his left lung (and so that doctors could test the nodule for cancer.) That procedure (and post-operative recovery) forced the trucker to take a two-month leave.

After just a month and a half back at work, the trucker suffered a severe respiratory infection at the end of January 2016, missing several days of work. On Feb. 1, W.E.’s second day back, the employer fired him, so he sued in federal court for disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

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The new U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County is rightly considered as a landmark in discrimination law, establishing conclusively that anti-LGBT+ discrimination is illegal discrimination under federal law. While most New Jersey workers were already protected from workplace sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination under long-standing protections written into New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, not all were. The new ruling offers some very significant help for some other workers in the Garden State… and that number could grow in the not-too-distant future. If you have been the victim of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination at work, be sure to consult an experienced New Jersey employment attorney to find out about your options under state or federal law (or both.)

Employment discrimination because a person is gay, lesbian or bisexual has been a violation of the Law Against Discrimination for nearly three decades. Workplace discrimination against trans people has been against the law in New Jersey since 2006. Not all Garden State workers, however, are covered by the Law Against Discrimination’s protections. For those people, the new federal ruling could have profound impacts.

The ruling in the Bostock case makes it clear that discrimination against LGBT+ workers is discrimination “because of sex,” which is barred under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. This development in federal law is a huge benefit for federal workers here in New Jersey. The law says that, if you are a federal government worker, you are only allowed to pursue discrimination claims based on federal law, not state law. The Law Against Discrimination’s protection would do nothing for a trans person who’s a federal worker in Newark. The ruling in the Bostock case, however, would give that person a very viable claim of discrimination in violation of Title VII.

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In a highly anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which is the federal law that bans certain forms of discrimination, applies to LGBT workers. Because of New Jersey’s strong and progressive laws regarding workplace discrimination, LGBT workers have been protected by the Law Against Discrimination for many years. This latest development, however, may give certain worker important additional options. This expanded array of available legal options is yet another good reason to retain an experienced New Jersey employment attorney for your case and ensure you’re benefiting from the best insight and in-depth knowledge of the law and its latest evolutions.

The Supreme Court case was actually a consolidation of three cases from the lower courts. In one, a county government employee in Georgia was fired shortly after he joined a softball league for gay men. In a second, a skydiving instructor in New York was fired shortly after his employer discovered he was gay. In Michigan, a funeral home fired a trans woman who after six years on the job, announced her intention to begin, as part of her transition, dressing in accordance with the employer’s rules for female attire.

All of these situations, according to the high court, represented impermissible forms of sex discrimination under Title VII. The majority opinion stated that an “employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

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From time to time, both federal and New Jersey anti-discrimination laws frequently undergo changes – some minor but some major – so, if you believe you’ve been harmed by discrimination or harassment at your job, be sure you have a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney on your side who’s up to date on all the changes to the law, and the impacts those can have. For example, Title VII, the federal law that bans many forms of workplace discrimination, originally only protected people from discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin. Over the decades, Congress added protections against age, pregnancy and disability discrimination. Now, U.S. Senator Cory Booker has proposed a new expansion, which would make discrimination against family caregivers (sometimes also known as family responsibilities discrimination) a violation of federal law.

Sen. Booker’s proposal, which is entitled the “Protecting Family Caregivers from Discrimination Act,” would make family caregiver status a protected class much like race, sex, religion, national origin, disability and age. Employers, under the proposed act, would be barred from firing, demoting, refusing to hire or otherwise taking adverse employment action against a person based on her/his status as a caregiver for family members, according to the senator’s web page. The bill would also, similar to the anti-discrimination and harassment protections afforded to those other groups, prohibit retaliation against a worker who seeks to enforce her/his rights under the expanded law.

Sen. Booker’s proposal is not the first of its kind. In 2016, New York City enacted a law that banned family caregiver discrimination in the city’s workplaces.

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If you’ve been harmed as a result of workplace discrimination or sexual harassment, you’re probably looking for something that you consider to be “justice.” Sometimes, that justice is a money award or settlement, to make up for all the lost earnings and other financial harm you’ve suffered. Sometimes, it is a large money award or settlement to create positive change by discouraging your employer and others from engaging in similar wrongful conduct in the future. Still other times, it is about creating positive change through other means beyond just a money payment. Whatever form of justice you’re seeking as a result of your workplace discrimination or sexual harassment, the right New Jersey employment attorney can help get you there.

K.B., who was a staff member on Gov. Murphy’s 2017 campaign, was a woman who allegedly suffered a most egregious form of workplace sexual harassment. In April 2017, the head of the Murphy campaign’s Muslim and Latino outreach allegedly sexually assaulted K.B. in her apartment, nj.com reported. According to K.B.’s lawsuit, this happened after a different female staffer had submitted no fewer than three complaints about “a toxic work environment and workplace violence” within the campaign. K.B. subsequently sued the Muslim/Latino outreach director, the Murphy campaign, and the state for several violations, including violations of the Law Against Discrimination.

The campaign staffer’s lawsuit is a reminder of several important aspects of New Jersey anti-discrimination and harassment law. First, K.B.’s case is a reminder that, regardless of whether she had been a paid staffer or an unpaid volunteer, she had a right to seek a civil court award. Although the Law Against Discrimination does not make a specific statement including unpaid interns and volunteers within the law’s protections, the Director of the Division on Civil Rights has stated that both paid employees and volunteer workers are protected against discrimination and sexual harassment by the law.

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Everyone has an idea of what they think gender discrimination looks like. The stereotype many picture involves a female employee, probably working in a job with relatively low prominence (and low income,) being harassed by a supervisor or more senior person who is male. The reality is that gender discrimination is much broader than just this stereotype, and it’s very important to keep that reality in mind. Just because your supervisor is the same gender as you, or just because you are in a job of high authority, power or influence, that doesn’t mean that you cannot be victimized by gender discrimination and it doesn’t mean you can’t win a gender discrimination lawsuit in the federal or New Jersey courts. Regardless of your job title or your gender, if you’ve suffered gender discrimination, you owe it to yourself to consult with a knowledgeable New Jersey gender discrimination attorney to learn more about your options.

The plaintiff in a recent gender discrimination case is a very good example of this. The plaintiff was not a nearly hired mail room clerk; she was a state court judge on the New Jersey Superior Court bench. During the second half of 2015, the judge’s supervisor, who was also a judge and also a woman, allegedly made derogatory remarks about the plaintiff’s gender, her demeanor and her appearance.

The supervisory judge allegedly belittled and demeaned the plaintiff in front of her staff, and was abusive toward her on other occasions, as well. Furthermore, the supervisor launched accusations against the plaintiff asserting that she engaged in multiple forms of judicial misconduct.

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As a worker in New Jersey, you are entitled to expect that you can come to work and do your work in an environment free of sexual harassment. You are also entitled to expect that your employer will take the appropriate actions to protect you from all risks of sexual harassment about which it knows or should know, even if those risks come from people who are not employees of your employer. If you are harmed by sexual harassment that your employer couldn’t possibly anticipate, your employer still has an obligation to take all the remedial steps necessary to ensure that you’re protected going forward. If those things don’t happen, then your employer may be in violation of the Law Against Discrimination and you may be entitled to substantial compensation. Contact a knowledgeable New Jersey sexual harassment attorney to learn more.

A recent jury verdict from Essex County is a reminder of several of those above truths. The worker, D.S., was a 41-year-old woman who worked as a wealth manager at the Glen Ridge branch of a major bank. The harasser in this case was a customer in his 70s. The customer allegedly followed D.S. from the branch to her car one day, verbally harassing her. The harassment ultimately became physical, with the customer grinding his groin into the woman’s backside, according to NBC News.

The state charged the customer with sexual assault. According to D.S.’s complaint, the bank did nothing, despite the fact that the customer was already notorious for harassing female employees at the branch, especially women of color like D.S. The man’s past conduct had included, among other acts, at least one instance where he placed his head on a female mortgage rep’s breasts as he hugged her, Fox Business reported. That failure to act, according to the jury who heard the wealth manager’s case, was enough to establish that the bank had violated the Law Against Discrimination.

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Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing two cases of discrimination allegedly suffered by two Catholic school teachers. A victory by the two teachers could represent a very important success for Catholic school teachers everywhere, including the 7,300+ such educators here in New Jersey, when it comes to being free from insidious employment discrimination. Even if your employer is a religion-based one, you may still be able to sue them and recover valuable compensation for discrimination or harassment you’ve suffered. If you’ve been harmed by age, sex, disability or other forms of discrimination by your religious employer, be sure you consult an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney and investigate your legal options.

A. M.-B., who taught at an elementary school in Hermosa Beach, Cal., was let go at age 65 and sued for age discrimination. K.B., who taught at an elementary school in Torrance, Cal., had her employment ended shortly after she informed her employer that she would need to take medical leave to treat her breast cancer, so she sued for disability discrimination.

Both of these teachers might have had very strong cases if their employers had been private companies or public agencies. For employees like teachers at religious schools, it’s more complicated. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the government cannot interfere in a religious entity’s decisions about who is or is not employed as a minister of that entity. This “ministerial exception” within discrimination law is rooted in the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment.

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Nearly everyone has an idea of what they think sex discrimination looks like. Maybe it’s an employer that refuses to hire a male applicant because he’s a man, or an employer that refuses to promote a female employee because she’s a woman. Those are clear-cut examples, but sex discrimination goes further than just that. One area of illegal sex discrimination is when you are punished at work for failing to conform to a certain stereotype generally affiliated with your gender. When that happens, you should contact a knowledgeable New Jersey sex discrimination attorney and explore your legal options.

One example of this kind of discrimination was on display in a federal lawsuit filed by an inspector at a food company’s facility. Allegedly, the employee’s supervisors “constantly” called him a wide array of homophobic epithets. One supervisor derided the employee’s car as “something a [gay slur] would drive.” The inspector, despite his allegedly enduring an onslaught of homophobic harassment, actually was heterosexual.

The judge in the inspector’s case said he could go forward with his pursuit of his employer. Federal law, as it currently exists in the Third Circuit (which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) doesn’t recognize discrimination claims based on a worker’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation, but does recognize as illegal discrimination based on ‘gender stereotyping,’ which means punishing a male worker for being insufficiently masculine or a female worker for not being feminine enough. The worker need not be gay or lesbian; in fact, the worker in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case on gender stereotyping was a heterosexual woman.

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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.

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