Phillips & Associates
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The current pandemic has brought us into unprecedented times and extreme challenges, including economically. Unprecedented times and money troubles often have the potential to stoke fear and division, and fear and division can often lead to discrimination. To fend off that risk, the State of New Jersey has passed new laws to protect workers from illegal workplace discrimination in this time of COVID-19. If you think you’ve been the recipient of illegal mistreatment at your job, be sure to reach to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney to find out more about your options.

One of the newest laws designed to curb discrimination and harassment is AB 3848, which Governor Murphy signed into law on March 20. That law, which took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, limits what an employer can do to an employee who takes COVID-19-related leave from work. Specifically, the new law forbids employers from firing or refusing to reinstate employees that took leave at the recommendation of their health providers because they had (or potentially had) COVID-19.

Of course, as is true of many types of employment law disputes, one of the big keys to having a winning case is having followed all of the mandatory procedural steps and having documented proof that you did so. For example, say you experienced symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and became concerned about your health and the health of those around you. You went to a licensed New Jersey health professional and he/she recommended that you miss work for a period of time.

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If you have been harmed by sex discrimination at work, you perhaps know that you may be able to sue and seek compensation in federal court under a federal law called “Title VII.” However, what you may not have known is that, in New Jersey, you potentially may be able file in federal court and pursue sex discrimination damages not just under Title VII, but also Title IX. This option is not available in all federal courts everywhere in the country, so if you have a federal discrimination case that you potentially can file in multiple different places, it may be advantageous to go forward in the District of New Jersey. Choosing the right court in which to file is one of many vitally important decisions that must be made during your case, so make sure you have a knowledgeable New Jersey sex discrimination attorney representing you from the very start.

One recent example of what a difference state boundaries can make came from the federal trial court in Connecticut. A female college professor was denied tenure and sued for sex discrimination, asserting a claim under federal Title IX. She lost, as the federal judge ruled that the professor couldn’t advance this kind of sex discrimination case under a Title IX claim.

At this point, you may be thinking, that sounds discouraging… how is that case and that outcome good news for me in New Jersey? The answer to that question lies in two legal concepts called jurisdiction and venue. When you decide to proceed in court, you have to file your case someplace where the court has jurisdiction, which means someplace where the judge has the authority to issue a judgment and or order that is legally binding on the parties. You also have to choose a court where venue is appropriate.

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Crises often bring out the best in people. Many recent COVID-19 (a/k/a novel coronavirus)-related stories have highlighted countless acts of selflessness to help people working in the healthcare industry, families with food insecurity, seniors and others. Crises also bring out the worst in people, including fear, anger, hate and discrimination. Just as the September 11th attacks brought about a wave of discrimination against people of the Islamic faith and people of Middle Eastern or Arabic heritage, COVID-19 also represents a regrettable opening for discrimination against people with health issues and people of East Asian ancestry. If you have been harmed by COVID-19-related discrimination or harassment at your job, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney for help.

To help minimize incidents of coronavirus-related discrimination, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights recently published a guidance document entitled “Civil Rights and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions.” That document, as it related to employment discrimination, focused primarily on two areas of potential harassment and/or discrimination: disability and race/ethnicity (or national origin.)

When it comes to discrimination or harassment based on disability or perceived disability, improper action related to COVID-19 might look different than other disability discrimination actions in the past, but the underlying concepts are the same. Just as your employer generally cannot fire you simply because your supervisor saw you take a hypertension drug and believes (without any supporting factual evidence) that the stress of the job is “too much” for you, your employer similarly cannot terminate your employment simply because, as the FAQ cited, “you coughed at work and they perceived you to have a disability related to COVID-19.”

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Disability discrimination law exists to ensure that people with physiological and mental health conditions are allowed to compete and participate in the workplace on a level playing field with workers without disabilities. That holds true for workers who are addicts. If a worker with an addiction fails to meet the mandatory minimum obligations of her job, she can still be subject to discipline or termination, just as a worker without disabilities would be. However, the law stands to protect a worker with an addiction who is doing her job – and doing it adequately well – from adverse employment action based solely on the fact that she is an addict. If that has happened to you, do not delay in reaching out to an experienced New Jersey disability discrimination attorney.

Recently, the federal case of S.W. provided an example of an employer who acted within the law. Sixteen months into her employment, S.W. showed up to work intoxicated and was found to have possessed alcohol at her workplace. At that point, the employer became aware that S.W. was an alcoholic. The employer and employee struck a “last chance” agreement that said that S.W. would seek treatment for her alcoholism and, if she violated company policy again with regard to alcohol, she would be fired.

Two and a half years later, S.W. took two absences from work, claiming she has a stomach illness and a car accident, respectively. In reality, S.W. had been hospitalized due to a “several-day drinking binge.” The employer fired S.W.

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There are certain employment practices that are obviously discriminatory. An employer who openly refuses to hire any LGBT+ person, a supervisor who jokes about all Mexicans being lazy or an HR manager who opines that “pregnancy always makes a woman crazy” are all obvious things. A lot of instances of discrimination aren’t nearly this obvious. Something as seemingly benign (and non-discriminatory) as a letter from the federal government about a worker’s employment eligibility verification paperwork can be the trigger for that employer to engage in illegal practices. If your employer has taken adverse employment action against you (such as forcing you onto unpaid leave or firing you) because it received a “no match” letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA), your employer may have violated the law. Contact a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney promptly to find out what you can do.

In March 2019, the federal government began sending “Employer Correction Request” notices, which are often more commonly known as “no match” letters, to employers. This March, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, Department of Labor and the Attorney General published a joint “Dear Employer” guidance letter to provide employers and employees with useful information and to help employers steer clear of actions that potentially violate New Jersey law.

On the federal employment eligibility verification form, also known as the I-9 form, is something that most all of us have filled out at some point when starting a new job. An employee discloses their name and Social Security number. “No match” letters, which the federal government stopped entirely in 2012 but restarted last year, are letters from the Social Security Administration that inform an employer that the name and the number contained on an employee’s I-9 form don’t match.

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It’s been 10 years since New Jersey first permitted residents to use marijuana for certain medical purposes. Nevertheless, a stigma remains surrounding the use of marijuana, even when used properly and for legitimate medical reasons. Sometimes, that stigma bleeds over into workplace discrimination. For New Jersey workers in that position, a recent ruling from the state Supreme Court is a huge win. The new ruling makes it clear that people who suffer workplace discrimination due to their proper use of medical marijuana may pursue – and win – disability discrimination lawsuits under the Law Against Discrimination. If you’ve suffered harm at work because of your employer’s disapproval of your proper use of medical marijuana, let this ruling be a motivation not to suffer in silence. Instead, call upon an experienced New Jersey disability discrimination attorney to investigate your legal options.

The case involved a North Jersey funeral director who had cancer. As part of the director’s cancer treatment, his doctor had prescribed medical marijuana. The employer found out about the director’s medical marijuana use after the director was injured in an on-the-job vehicle accident. (While working a funeral, the director had been struck by another driver who ran a stop sign.) The director clearly “was not under the influence of marijuana” at the time of the accident, according to the doctor who treated him.

Nevertheless, the funeral home fired the director. The director sued the funeral home for disability discrimination. The trial judge concluded that the director had no case, but the Appellate Division court reversed that decision and allowed the director to go forward.

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Discrimination law in New Jersey has undergone important changes in recent years, and potentially may be undergoing more. The changes reflect the clear awareness that there’s still more to do in order to stamp out the ills of discrimination and harassment in workplaces in this state. As the laws continue to evolve, the opportunities you have to obtain the compensation you need and deserve for the harm you suffered on the job may be increasing. If you’ve been hurt by workplace discrimination or harassment, make sure you reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney without delay.

Earlier this year, Governor Phil Murphy announced a proposal that would make numerous beneficial changes to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Before that, though, New Jersey’s state government had already taken some important steps to stamp out certain discrimination, including the discrimination inflicted through the wage gap.

The state passed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act in 2018. This March, the Division on Civil Rights published a guidance document to help employees and employers understand what the Equal Pay Act does for workers. One very important thing to know about the law is that it applies to more than just the gender wage gap.

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Governor Phil Murphy recently proposed what would amount to a massive reform of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD.) The overhaul, if enacted in its entirety, would make it easier for New Jersey workers who are the victims of discrimination or harassment to file and pursue their cases successfully. The governor’s proposal is an important reminder that the laws in New Jersey are often changing and, sometimes, those changes are major… and massively beneficial to you. Be sure to consult a knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination attorney about your situation to get the up-to-date advice you need.

The proposed revamp of the LAD comes in the aftermath of a one-year-long study of discrimination and harassment at New Jersey workplaces, which was conducted by the Division on Civil Rights (DCR.) The director of the DCR, after completing the survey, stated that sexual harassment remained “pervasive. Even as women make up nearly half of the work force, sexual harassment persists in every sector of the workforce.”

Toward ending that pervasiveness, the reform proposed by the governor would extend the statute of limitations for filing a LAD claim from two years to three years. The proposal would also give harmed workers an extra six months to file an administrative complaint with the DCR, which is a mandatory first step before you can sue in court.

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Many studies have shown that the gender pay gap is real and is persisting. There are many ways in which employers can (and do) contribute to this problem. One is by perpetuating old discrimination by basing a new hire’s salary on what he/she was making at his/her previous job(s). This demand for a “salary history” was common for many decades, but is now being eradicated in many places, including New Jersey, which recently banned the practice. If you have suffered discrimination in the form of an improper salary history demand from a potential employer, you should contact a knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination attorney about your situation.

Many of these statutes and ordinances banning salary history disclosures are relatively new, and are still facing court challenges. A salary history ban ordinance in Philadelphia just cleared a major hurdle when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city and found the ordinance constitutional. Philadelphia’s “Wage Equity Ordinance” said employers couldn’t inquire about an applicant’s earnings history, couldn’t require disclosure of earnings history and couldn’t retaliate against an applicant for failing to disclose previous earnings.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce sought to prevent enforcement of the ordinance, arguing that banning employers from asking these sorts of questions violated the employers’ free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A federal district judge even agreed with the chamber, concluding that the ordinance represented a free speech violation and barring enforcement of the ordinance.

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Once you’ve made the major decision to file a sexual harassment suit in court, there will still be several more decisions you’ll have to make going forward. Each of these decisions are the kinds of things where the advice and counsel of an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment attorney can be invaluable.

For example, at one or more points, you’ll probably have to decide whether you want to settle your case or take it all the way to a judgment. For some people, hearing a judge or jury state that you were harassed and that your employer violated the law may be an essential goal, meaning that a judgment may be more valuable than a settlement where the employer doesn’t acknowledge its culpability. For many people, though, receiving a settlement award that sufficiently compensates them for the harm they’ve suffered may be enough to warrant letting go of their case, as it allows them to get the financial compensation they need, allows them to obtain closure on a frustrating and painful chapter, and also allows them to avoid the time and stress of additional litigation.

S.C. was one of those workers in the latter category. According to a nj.com report, she worked for at one of New Jersey’s developmental centers for men and women with developmental disabilities, providing services to the center’s residents. In December 2016, S.C. received a new assignment to a different cottage within the center.

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