When an employee brings credible, substantiated accusations of sexual harassment or discrimination in a workplace, their employer often settles discreetly for “an undisclosed sum of money” and an agreement to keep everything confidential. A law passed earlier this year in New Jersey declares that such confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements are against the greater interest of the public and, as such, unenforceable. Not only does the new law restrict settlement agreements, it significantly restricts the rights of employers to require that employees broadly waive rights related to pursuing discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claims that may arise during their employment.
Private employers balance respecting the rights and diversity of their workers with fostering the moral principles that they support as a company. Unlike public employers, private companies are free to enact religious displays, advocate for one religion over another, and openly engage in religious practices in the workplace. However, both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protect New Jersey workers from employment discrimination based on their religion or lack thereof. These laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on religion, both in hiring and during their employment, and make it illegal to force those of faith to suppress or violate their religious beliefs as a condition of obtaining or maintaining employment.
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.
Discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and other protected characteristics is prohibited by statutes like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and the federal Civil Rights Act. The purpose of these statutes is to protect citizens against discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in obtaining goods and services, and in many other aspects of everyday life.
These statutes bar open and obvious discrimination, such as refusing to employ or rent an apartment to someone based on their race or national origin. Another aspect of discrimination that is prohibited by these laws, however, is known as “disparate impact.” This describes policies that seem neutral but in practice have a discriminatory impact on a protected class of people.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by both New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). In fact, employers have a legal obligation to their workers to take steps to protect them from all forms of workplace harassment. This includes establishing preventive measures to help minimize sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct, putting a system in place to allow employees to report harassment, and implementing remedial measures when harassment is reported. When an employee reports harassment to HR, the employer has a responsibility to adequately investigate the allegations.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects against discrimination based on certain protected characteristics in housing, employment, places of public accommodation, credit, and business contracts. In general, the NJLAD prohibits taking “adverse employment actions” against employees or candidates for employment because of protected characteristics or discriminating against employees or candidates in any actions related to hiring, firing, compensation, terms and conditions of employment, or retirement based on protected characteristics. A recent case involving the Plainfield Fire Department reaffirms that the NJLAD protects members of a majority group against illegal discrimination in the same manner as it protects minorities.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are common in settlements of workplace sexual harassment suits to limit what the parties can reveal about the facts of the complaint and the terms of a settlement. They often limit what all parties involved can reveal about the accused harasser, the alleged victim, and the workplace culture or environment that may have fostered or condoned behavior that led to a harassment claim. In light of the #MeToo movement, which encourages victims to speak out publicly about their experiences of workplace harassment in an effort to prevent future occurrences, a number of states have passed or are considering legislation limiting NDAs.
A group of female sales associates has filed a lawsuit against a New York-based men’s clothing company because of clothing allowances it gave only to its male store employees. A federal court recently determined that the women can proceed with their lawsuit as a class action for discrimination and violations of the Equal Pay Act.
Topics: Discrimination & Harassment
With all the media attention on high profile cases of sexual harassment, some people are confused as to what behavior constitutes workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is harassment based on gender or sexual preference, and it occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. Employers and employees alike should understand what the legal standards are for defining sexual harassment.
Topics: Discrimination & Harassment