Who is Protected by New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination?

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination against workers on the basis of their protected traits or characteristics. To the average person, however, this language is not always clear, and it may leave an individual asking whether or not the law’s protections actually apply to his or her situation. Although specific protections may vary based on the details of each case, the LAD usually prohibits discrimination on the basis of a worker’s race, religion, color, national origin, age, ancestry, nationality, marital status, sex, gender identity, disability, military service, sexual orientation, medical condition, or pregnancy.

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Race, Religion, Color, National Origin, and Ancestry

The NJLAD provides broad protections against discrimination based on an individual’s race, religion, color, nationality or national origin, and ancestry. Under New Jersey law, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on any of these characteristics. Discrimination can include adverse hiring or firing decisions, such as denying someone a deserved promotion, or it may simply be unfair treatment. Race, religion, color, national origin, and ancestry are also protected by the NJLAD in housing situations and in places of public accommodation.

Age

Under the NJLAD, employees cannot be treated unfairly in the workplace simply because of age. This provision applies to all individuals who are between the ages of 18 and 70, but there are exceptions for certain career fields such as law enforcement officers and other jobs that involve public safety. Some individuals have used the NJLAD’s age discrimination provision to bring reverse age discrimination claims, stating that they were treated unfairly due to their status as a younger worker. In at least one of these cases, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the NJLAD’s age discrimination provision was broad enough to include claims that an employee was treated unfairly due to his or her youth. Bergen Commercial Bank v. Sisler, 157 N.J. 188 (1999).

Sex, Gender, and Gender Identity

An employer may not treat employees differently based on sex, gender, or gender identity. This means that all individuals must be paid fairly regardless of their sex. An employer may not pay men and women who do substantially the same job different salaries or wages, and men and women who perform substantially similar jobs must be provided with similar benefits. This protection extends to all transgendered, transvestite, and androgynous individuals as well.

Sexual Orientation

In New Jersey, the NJLAD prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. This means that it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because that person is gay or if the employer simply thinks that the employee is gay. For instance, if an employer fires one of its workers because a supervisor thinks the employee is gay and disagrees with his personal decisions, the employer may be liable for discrimination under the NJLAD regardless of the employee’s actual sexual orientation. The protections granted under this section of the NJLAD apply equally to all heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual workers.

Marital Status

The NJLAD makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any person based on his or her marital status. This provision applies to workers who are in a civil unions or domestic partnerships as well as marriages. Regardless of whether a person is single, married, separated, divorced, or in another legally recognized domestic relationship, he or she is granted this protection and cannot be denied the same opportunities that are provided to other workers in other statuses. Therefore, under the NJLAD, it would be illegal for an employer to publish a job posting that states that “only single women should apply” or to deny a person a promotion simply because he is involved in a civil union. These actions are violations of New Jersey law and can lead to further legal consequences.

Disability and Medical Conditions

Discrimination based on a worker’s physical or mental disability is prohibited under the NJLAD. This provision applies to both diagnosed and perceived disabilities. Workers who suffer from a disability or medical condition are entitled to reasonable accommodations from their employers. This means that if a disabled employee requires any special tools or conditions in order to complete a job, the employer must allow these accommodations as long as it does not place an unfair burden on the employer. The NJLAD also provides special protections for employees who have AIDS or HIV. Individuals with AIDS or HIV are not required to tell their employers about their condition. In the event that their employer learns about their condition, however, they are protected from discrimination.

Pregnancy

Lawmakers recently amended the NJLAD to provide protection against discrimination for pregnant women and mothers. This means that an employer cannot fire or refuse to rehire a pregnant woman who takes time off to deal with her pregnancy or issues stemming from childbirth. Furthermore, an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees who choose to continue working throughout their pregnancies. The New Jersey Family Medical Leave Act also provides specific protections for employees who require time off from work due to childbirth, adoption, or to take care of an ill family member.

Military Service

Members of the military are protected from discrimination in the workplace under the NJLAD. While serving in the armed forces, fulfilling a military commitment, or participating in military training, workers may not be penalized or fired due to their military service. Although employees serving in the military are not entitled to civilian pay during the time they are away from civilian jobs, they are guaranteed the right to return to the same or a similar job upon return from military service.

Reverse Discrimination

Under both New Jersey and federal law, discrimination based on a person’s protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, age, or disability is illegal.  If a person is treated differently or unfairly because of his or her protected characteristics, discrimination has taken place, and legal remedies may be available to the victim.

Although discrimination cases usually involve historically disadvantaged or minority groups, discrimination is also illegal in instances where the victim is not a member of a historically disenfranchised or disadvantaged group.  These situations, which are sometimes referred to as “reverse discrimination” cases, give rise to the same legal rights and remedies as more traditional discrimination cases, although a plaintiff may be subjected to a heightened pleading standard.

Courts have recognized that reverse discrimination is a legitimate legal claim.  In early 2014, a United States District Court ruled that a reverse discrimination claim could proceed, despite the fact that the plaintiff was a Caucasian male.  In the case of McQuillan v. Petco, Frank McQuillan claimed that he had been subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment.  McQuillan claimed that, as the only Caucasian worker at one of Petco’s locations, the exclusive use of Spanish-language signs in the workplace and harassing comments from his Hispanic coworkers led to a hostile work environment.  As a result, he sued his employer.  Although Petco attempted to have the case thrown out, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey determined that McQuillan had a valid claim, and his case could proceed.

If your employer has discriminated against you in the workplace due to your protected characteristics, your rights may have been violated.  It does not matter whether you are white or black, male or female, or a member of a historically disadvantaged group: discrimination is illegal.  Regardless of your specific situation, an experienced employment attorney can help you seek justice and reclaim your rights if they have been violated.