As all of America has come to re-assess the way in which minorities and other marginalized people are treated, many have concluded that it is not enough merely to refrain from engaging in harmful biased behavior; one must also be an active participant in stamping out such bigotry. However, what about at your workplace? If a coworker or supervisor is using offensive language that dehumanizes a group, what are your options? Are your options fewer if you’re not a member of that group? Fortunately, whether you are a member of the targeted group or are just an ally, you have some clear rights in New Jersey, so be sure to reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney right away if you are punished at work for speaking up.
Let’s use an example from current events, reported by the New York Times, as a starting point. Very recently, an announcer for a Major League Baseball team, during a moment that was supposed to be off-air but was inadvertently broadcast, used an offensive anti-gay slur. He was later suspended by the TV network that employed him. Even though the slur may have occurred in a moment the announcer believed was off-air, it was undeniably said at the announcer’s workplace while he was “on the job,” and was clearly audible by fellow broadcasters and members of the network’s broadcast production team.
Lots of New Jersey workers can probably relate to having to put up with supervisors or coworkers who regularly shower the workplace with racist, anti-LGBT, anti-woman or other slurs and epithets. But do you really have to “put up with it”?
New Jersey law says you don’t… and that’s true even if you’re not a member of the group targeted by the slur. It’s still true if there were no members of the maligned group who heard the slurs or if no members even knew about the language at all.
We know this because the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the issue several years ago. The case involved M.B., a worker at a major package shipping and delivery employer. M.B.’s supervisor used the sexist B-word and C-word slurs on many occasions at work. M.B. complained multiple times, but the employer did nothing except, eventually, to demote M.B.
New Jersey recognizes a strong public interest in ‘discrimination-free’ workplaces
What made M.B.’s case more complicated was that M.B. was a man. In fact, no women heard or were even aware of the supervisor’s sexist slurs. The fact that there were no women who were directly victimized doesn’t matter for the purposes of the Law Against Discrimination, according to the Supreme Court. The LAD’s purpose is, among other things, “to protect the public’s strong interest in a discrimination-free workplace.” In order to advance that purpose, workers must be free to report this kind of conduct, even if they’re not a member of the target group. As long as you are making your complaint with a “good faith belief that the conducted complained of violates“ the law, then you are entitled to speak up without fear of retaliation.
So, if you were at your New Jersey workplace and you encountered a supervisor who spoke in meetings and elsewhere on the job with the same type of language as the recently suspended baseball announcer, you should feel free to stand up and oppose the conduct, including complaining to HR, even if you’re not gay and no LGBT people ever heard the language.
The LAD exists to stamp out discrimination, and M.B.’s case stands for the legal notion that employees should not be punished for working to advance that goal. If you’ve suffered workplace harm because you took a stand against discrimination or harassment, you may be entitled to sue under the LAD and recover substantial compensation. To make sure you’re getting everything from your case that you should, count on the knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Our attorneys offer many years of experience in successfully representing workers damaged by sexual orientation discrimination and sexual harassment. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.