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 (NJLAD) in 1945. In the nearly seventy years since the NJLAD (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 NJLAD prohibits discrimination in the workplace, including in hiring, firing, compensation, terms and conditions of employment, and retirement. An employer cannot take action against any employee or potential employee for reasons based on a protected characteristic.
The characteristics protected under the NJLAD are:
- Creed (religion or lack thereof)
- National origin/ancestry
- Marital/civil union/domestic partnership status
- Affectional or sexual orientation
- Genetic information
- Gender identity or expression
- Disability or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual
- Liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States or the nationality of any individual
Not only are these characteristics protected, but there are also specific acts that may be protected as well. Some of the actions protected by the NJLAD are the rights of New Jersey workers to:
- File or assist in filing a complaint based on prohibited discrimination
- Testify on behalf of a fellow employee in a discrimination trial or hearing
- Freely discuss their pay, benefits, and other compensation with their co-workers in order to determine whether they are being compensated fairly
- Refuse to submit to a genetic test or make available the results of a genetic test to an employer
The law prohibits discrimination in many different scenarios, like firing an employee due to race or religion, paying employees differently because of gender or age, or denying a candidate the opportunity to interview for a job because of their perceived sexual orientation or pregnancy. In addition to situations like these, the NJLAD also protects workers who are in need of special accommodations due to disabilities or other physical or mental limitations, both temporary and permanent. 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 law may apply, it is important to note that the NJLAD typically only covers workers who are classified as employees, and not those who are independent contractors. (There may be other laws under which an independent contractor can recover, however, if they have been treated unfairly while performing work.) Although the NJLAD provides broad discrimination protections in a wide variety of situations, its applicability and specific rights may differ depending on the facts of each case.
The NJLAD provides a number of remedies to compensate victims of discrimination. 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 NJLAD 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).
Statute of Limitations
In order to obtain the remedies provided by the NJLAD, 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 NJLAD 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 employee may simply want their lost job back, while other cases, they 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.
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.