If you’ve suffered from gender-based discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace or endured a hostile work environment, you’re not alone. New Jersey employees are protected from sex-based harassment and discrimination by Title VII, the federal law prohibiting discrimination, as well as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). You may wonder, however, what kind of compensation you can actually recover from your employer or the individuals responsible for the harassment.
Remedies Available Under New Jersey Law
The NJLAD requires employers to actively take steps to prevent workplace harassment, investigate reports of its occurrence, and address incidents in a timely manner. New Jersey employers must take reasonable precautions to prevent a hostile or discriminatory environment for all employees at all times, including work-related functions like company outings, parties, and required travel. If an employer or its representative (e.g., a manager or supervisor) actively harasses an employee, fails to take steps to prevent harassment of an employee by his or her coworkers, or retaliates against a worker who complains of harassment, they may be liable for damages to the employee. An employer may not terminate a worker’s employment or otherwise take retaliatory action against an employee based on their gender or in response to a worker’s complaints of harassment.
Several different types of damages are available to a worker making a claim for sexual harassment or discrimination under the NJLAD:
- Injunctive relief is a directive from the court instructing the employer to take certain action or refrain from taking certain action, such as to reinstate, re-assign, or promote a worker.
- Back pay and interest on lost wages may be available. This may be appropriate where a worker has been wrongfully terminated, denied an appropriate promotion or bonus, or otherwise denied what the court determines to be appropriate compensation for his or her work.
- Compensatory damages attempt to compensate the victim of harassment for the pain and suffering or emotional distress he or she suffered in addition to actual financial loss, such as associated health care costs. Although it can be difficult to put a value on some of these kinds of damages, the court will consider things like a plaintiff’s inconvenience and economic loss, physical and emotional stress, feelings of humiliation or embarrassment, anxiety, difficulty searching for reemployment, uncertainty, career and family disruption, low self-esteem, hardship in procuring childcare, anxiety attacks, stress, sleeplessness, health problems, depression, adjustment problems, and other forms of mental anguish.
- Punitive damages are designed to punish the employer by inflicting financial discomfort on the business and/or individuals involved in the harassing behavior. They are also sometimes called “exemplary damages,” since they are usually high enough to “make an example” out of a company to its peers and the public at large. Although rarely awarded, punitive damages may be available under the NJLAD if a plaintiff can establish especially egregious conduct constituting discrimination and prove that there was actual participation in or willful indifference to the wrongful conduct by the company’s upper management.
- Although in most legal cases each party must pay their own costs and fees to bring action, even if they prevail, a court may award reasonable attorney’s fees to a successful plaintiff under the NJLAD.
Additionally, in certain circumstances, employers may be held liable for statutory fines of up to $50,000; these penalties, however, are not paid to the victim of the harassment.
Bringing a Claim for Sexual Harassment in New Jersey
The NJLAD allows employees who believe they have been sexually harassed in the workplace or are the victims of a hostile work environment the option to either file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights or file a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court. Each avenue has benefits and drawbacks, and every claim is unique. You should consult with an experienced employment attorney who is well versed in workplace discrimination and harassment claims to determine which course of action is most advisable in your situation.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, sexually harassed, or discriminated against in the workplace, contact the Mark Law Firm’s team of experienced employment lawyers.
 See Tarr v. Ciasulli, 853 A. 2d 921 (NJ Supreme Ct., 2004).