The state of New Jersey understands that workers are not always treated fairly and are sometimes deprived of rights due to discrimination. When workers are discriminated against, not only do they suffer from personal hardships, but the state also suffers economic losses (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-3). In order to combat discriminatory employment practices that cause harm throughout New Jersey, the state first instituted the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) in 1945. In the nearly seventy years since the LAD (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 10:5-1 et seq.) was first put into effect, it has been modified many times, but the law’s main purpose has remained the same: to put an end to unfair discrimination.
The state of New Jersey has the right and the responsibility to regulate its citizens and businesses in order to ensure that people, including workers and laborers, are treated fairly and to protect their personal rights. The LAD is an exercise of the state’s power to protect the public safety, health, and morals, as well as to promote the general welfare and right to fulfillment provided by the New Jersey State Constitution (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-2). As such, the state has the authority to provide the protections granted in the LAD and to institute policies aimed at stopping discrimination in various settings.
In general, the LAD prohibits any discrimination that is based on a person’s protected characteristics such as race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, familial status, disability, nationality, sex, gender identity, or gender expression (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-4). The LAD was also amended in early 2014 to include protections for pregnant women. Not only are these characteristics protected, but there are also specific acts that may be protected as well. Some of the protected acts included under the LAD are the right to file or assist in filing a complaint based on prohibited discrimination and the right to testify on behalf of a fellow employee in a discrimination trial or hearing. Recently, New Jersey workers also received protection to freely discuss their pay, benefits, and other compensation with their co-workers in order to determine whether they are being compensated fairly.
One environment in which the LAD is applicable is within the workplace, and the LAD provides specific protections for those trying to obtain employment, those who are currently employed, and those who have recently been fired or terminated (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 10:5-4, 10:5-12). The law protects employees in many different scenarios, including being fired due to race or religion, being paid differently because of gender or age, and being denied the opportunity to interview for a job due to perceived sexual orientation or pregnancy. In addition to these situations, the LAD also applies to workers who are in need of special accommodations due to disabilities or other physical or mental limitations. This includes hearing and vision impaired workers who require the assistance of a service animal, wheelchair bound employees who require access to special facilities, and laborers who are rendered temporarily disabled due to an illness or injury.
Although there are many different employment situations in which the LAD may apply, it is important to note that the LAD typically only covers workers who are classified as employees, and not those who are independent contractors. Despite the fact that the LAD may not apply to independent contractors, there may be other laws under which an independent contractor can recover if he or she has been treated unfairly while executing a contract.
Other Types of Discrimination
Other scenarios where the LAD may apply include issues involving housing discrimination, discrimination in places of public accommodation, and discrimination in credit and contracting practices. Overall, the applicability of the LAD is incredibly broad. Although the LAD provides discrimination protections in a wide variety of situations, the applicability and specific rights vary depending on the individual facts involved.
If a person becomes the victim of discrimination because of his or her protected characteristics, (s)he may be entitled to several remedies. These remedies include injunctive relief, job reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages related to pain and suffering or emotional distress, punitive damages, interest on lost wages, and reasonable attorney’s fees. Each of these remedies may require special proof or a specific burden to be carried, and not all may be available in every case. In addition to being held liable to pay these remedies to an aggrieved employee, an employer who violates the LAD may also be subject to fines of up to $50,000, depending on the nature and number of the discrimination offenses of which the employer is found to have committed. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-14.1a).
In order to obtain the remedies provided by the LAD, discrimination victims must file actions within specific timelines. Complaints to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-18), and lawsuits must be filed with the court within two years of the date of the alleged discrimination. If a worker first files a claim with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights but later changes his mind, he can stop that action and file a lawsuit so long as the Division has not yet rendered an official decision.
Due to all the complexity of possible combinations of LAD violations, available remedies, and actions that a discrimination victim may wish to bring, it is important victims understand their rights and know what to expect when filing discrimination complaints or lawsuits. Employment discrimination cases require patience, knowledge, and attention to detail, and each individual’s case is unique. For instance, sometimes an aggrieved employee may simply want the lost job back, while other times, the employee may hope to receive monetary damages for lost wages. Likewise, cases in which a worker has been denied the right to a reasonable accommodation for a disability are different from cases in which a worker is fired because of a boss’s prejudice and discrimination.
Despite the fact that most discrimination cases are filed under the LAD, different approaches may be advisable in each situation. This is why it is important for discrimination victims to seek the help of an experienced employment attorney who will take the time to understand what has happened and how best to help. By working closely with a dedicated attorney, victims can ease the pain and harm caused by the discrimination, and they will have a devoted ally in seeking justice for the wrongs they have suffered due to unlawful discrimination.