One of the main focuses of this blog is the protection offered to employees under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, or “LAD.” Here’s a very general and very quick summary of how the LAD works in the employment setting; it’s a good place to start if you are concerned you may be suffering workplace discrimination.
Who Is Covered Under LAD?
The LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their membership in certain “protected classes.” As of the date of this blog post, those classes are:
- Creed or religion
- National origin, nationality, or ancestry
- Sex (including pregnant status)
- Familial status, marital/civil union status, or domestic partnership status
- Affectional or sexual orientation
- Gender identity and expression
- Atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait
- Genetic information
- Liability for military service (for example, members of a military reserve)
- Mental or physical disability
- AIDS and HIV status
When it comes to these “protected classes”, it’s important to remember and know that:
They cover very specific categories of individuals who have historically been subject to discrimination based on their membership in the class.
As such, if you do not fall within a protected class, you cannot bring an LAD claim. The only exception is for workers who suffer retaliation for sticking up for co-workers in a protected class (as discussed below).
While this may seem obvious, I consult with many employees who are quite surprised to learn that it’s perfectly legal for the boss to fire you because you root for a sports team he or she hates; or because he or she thinks your jokes are weak; or any number of ridiculous reasons. In other words, just because your employer is arbitrary, or crazy, or a simple jerk, in no way means that you have cause to sue under the LAD. On the contrary: To state a threshold LAD claim, you must be able to allege that your employer’s conduct was due to your race, age, sex, or membership in another protected class.
They include “perceived membership” in a protected class.
It is not unheard of for employers to take action against workers based on an erroneous and mistaken belief that those workers are gay, or belong to a certain race, or are disabled. If you suffer workplace discrimination due to your boss’s misperception that you fall into one of the protected classes, the LAD covers you just as if you were, in fact, a member of that class. For example, in a somewhat recent case, a worker sued under the LAD based upon his employer’s perception that he was Jewish, when in fact he was not.
What Employer Conduct Is Prohibited Under LAD?
In general, the LAD prohibits employers from taking three types of action against workers based upon their membership in a protected class. Employers cannot subject workers to:
(1) Adverse employment actions due to belonging to a protected class. An “adverse employment action” is employer conduct that negatively impacts your job, the most famous example being termination. Other examples include bogus or false discipline, demotion, and pay and hour cuts.
(2) Hostile work environments due to belonging to a protected class. A “hostile work environment” is a legal term of art that refers to severe and pervasive harassment on the basis of race, age, sex, or other protected characteristic. New Jersey courts have found hostile work environments based on just a few egregious incidents, or many months of routinely offensive behavior. These cases are very fact-specific but, no matter your circumstances, to claim LAD protection you will need to allege the harassment you suffered was so significant that any reasonable member of your same protected class would conclude your working environment was hostile and abusive.
(3) Retaliation for complaining about discrimination based upon a protected class. The LAD makes it illegal for employers not only to discriminate against workers based upon a protected class, but to take action against workers for merely complaining about such discrimination. This means that if you yourself complain to your employer that you are being subject to discrimination due to your race, sex, age, etc., the LAD prohibits your employer from firing or otherwise retaliating against you due to that complaint. This also means that if you complain to your employer that another worker is being discriminated against due to that worker’s race, sex, age, etc., the LAD prohibits your employer from retaliating against you due to that complaint.
What Is the Statute of Limitations?
As of the date of this blog post, the statute of limitations for the LAD is two years. Very generally speaking, the two year-period begins running from the date of the employer’s illegal “adverse employment action” or retaliation, or from the date of the last act of harassment suffered by an employee in a hostile work environment claim. However, there are legal niceties relating to the statute of limitations that can impact the timetable, so be sure to give any attorney you consult with all the relevant facts of your potential claim.
Still Have Questions?
The foregoing is a broad overview intended to give you the basic “gist” of the LAD. If you would like to discuss whether you have a valid LAD claim and, if so, it’s relative strengths and weaknesses, call our offices today for a free consultation.