Harassed Employee Experiencing Severe Emotional DistressYesterday, in an employment discrimination case, the New Jersey Supreme Court dramatically limited the right of courts to reduce the amount of a jury’s emotional distress damages award, ruling that courts can only do so in unusual cases.

The case was filed by two brothers, Ramon and Jeffrey Cuevas.  The Cuevas brothers are Hispanic.  Their employer, Wentworth Property Management Corporation, subjected them to derogatory and humiliating remarks relating to their race.  It fired the brothers shortly after Jeffrey complained about the harassment.

After a trial, the jury awarded Ramon over $1 million in lost wages, $800,000 in emotional distress damages and $52,500 in punitive damages.  It also awarded Jeffrey $150,000 in lost wages, $600,000 in emotional distress damages and $32,500 in punitive damages.  Wentworth asked the trial court to remit (reduce) the emotional distress damages awards, arguing they were excessive.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who object to harassment in the workplace.  A recent case recognizes that the LAD also protects employees who object to sexual harassment committed by a customer.

Nicole Prager was a receptionist for Joyce Honda.  One day, a customer tugged at the arm of her shirt and exposed her bra at work.

Female Employee Being Sexually Harassed by CustomerAfter the incident occurred, a service manager asked Ms. Prager if she wanted to file criminal charges against the customer.  When Ms. Prager indicated she was not sure, the manager told her she had to decide within 15 minutes.  Ms. Prager believed the manager was trying to discourage her from pressing charges because the harasser was a very good customer who had purchased approximately 20 cars during the previous year.

In an important employment law decision, last month the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an employee can pursue a retaliation claim under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) even though his alleged whistleblowing activity has some relationship to his rights under the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between his employer and his union.

Arbitration Agreements GavelSalvatore Puglia worked for Elk Pipeline, Inc.  He was a union member who was subject to a CBA.  Mr. Puglia and one of his coworkers complained to their supervisor when the company cut their salary in half.  They eventually asserted that Elk was violating New Jersey’s Prevailing Wage Act, a wage and hour law that entitles certain employees assigned to public works jobs to be paid a specific legally-established minimum hourly rate.  Mr. Puglia also complained to the company’s president about this violation of law.

Eventually, Elk resumed paying Mr. Puglia and his coworkers their full salary.  However, the company failed to pay Mr. Puglia all of the back pay he was owed.  According to Mr. Puglia, when he objected about this the company’s president warned him to “either be quiet and keep [his] job or be laid off.”

As I have said before, it is a widely view that individuals are much better off having their employment law disputes resolved in court rather than in arbitration.  Fortunately, a recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division helps make it more difficult for employers to force employment law cases into arbitration.

Eleison Pharmaceuticals, LLC hired Forrest Anthony as its Vice President and Chief Medical Officer.  They entered into a three year employment contract, pursuant to which Mr. Anthony would receive a $250,000 annual base salary plus bonuses.  The contract requires the parties to use a “phased dispute resolution process” for any disputes arising out of the agreement.  The final step of the dispute resolution process is binding arbitration.

Employment contact contains arbitration clauseMr. Anthony eventually filed a lawsuit against Eleison in which he alleged that the company owes him over $263,000 in unpaid salary.  Among his claims, he asserted that the company violated the New Jersey Wage Payment Act because it (1) did not pay him at least once per month; (2) did not pay him at least minimum wage; (3) did not pay him time-and-a-half when he worked more than 40 hours per week; and (4) did not pay him all wages he was owed when his employment relationship terminated.  In addition, he alleged the company breached his employment contract by failing to pay his full salary.

Older worker pursues age discrimination lawsuitLast month, New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s ruling that had dismissed an employee’s age and disability discrimination case.

Spencer Robinson worked for Armadillo Automation, Inc., also known as Onyx Valve Co., in its assembly department.  When Onyx hired Mr. Robinson, he was 60 years old.  According to Mr. Robinson, when he was hired he made it clear he had a lower back condition and needed a stool so he could sit during the workday.  Onyx provided him a stool.

Approximately six years later, Mr. Robinson experienced neck pain while he was working.  He claims he reported his injury to the company’s vice president, who refused to send him the doctor and indicated he did not believe it was a workplace injury.  Mr. Robinson further alleges the vice president told him he would not take him to the hospital unless he was “passed out on the floor or profusely bleeding.”

A ruling opinion from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey recognizes that an employee can be protected by New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), even if her employer knew about the issue before the employee objected about it.

Employee Time CardJacqueline Martelack worked for Toys ‘R’ Us, Inc. as a cashier.  After she was promoted to become a Human Resources Department Supervisor, she told the employee who was training her that someone had been changing her time cards so she was not paid when she worked during her lunch break.  Toys ‘R’ Us investigated her allegations and eventually confirmed that she and her coworkers were not being paid during scheduled breaks that they did not actually take.  After the investigation, Toys ‘R’ Us paid the employees other than Ms. Martelack the wages they were owed for this unpaid work.

In the meantime, Toys ‘R’ Us told Ms. Martelack that she should stop reporting to her current store because it was going to transfer her to another location.  However, it did not assign her to work for two months, and she eventually concluded that she had been fired.  Ms. Martelack subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging in which she alleged, among other things, that Toys ‘R’ Us failed to pay her full hourly wage in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and fired her in violation of CEPA.

Earlier this year, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that in an employment discrimination lawsuit the employee’s treating physician can offer medical opinions relating to the medical treatment without having to be designated an expert witness.

Treating physician permitted to testify as expert witness
Patricia Delvecchio worked for the Township of Bridgewater as a police dispatcher.  Ms. Delvecchio suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”).  She claims her IBS is a disability which Bridgewater failed to accommodate, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).  Specifically, she asked the department not to require her to work the night shift because doing so exacerbated her IBS.  The town refused, claiming doing so would impose an undue hardship since it would have to require other dispatchers to work the night shift more frequently.  Bridgewater also denied Ms. Delvecchio’s requests to take an extended sick leave.

Eventually, the Township asked Ms. Delvecchio to resign.  Ms. Delvecchio refused, and instead accepted a job as a records clerk, a position with a lower salary than her previous job as a police dispatcher.  Ultimately, Bridgewater fired Ms. Delvecchio for “neglect of duty” and “chronic/excessive absenteeism” because she had exceeded her allotment of sick leave.

Labor Lawyer Joseph S. FineRabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg, P.C. is pleased to announce that Joseph S. Fine has become Of Counsel to the firm.

Joe represents unions and employees in arbitrations, mediations, and negotiations, and in litigation at the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) and before state and federal courts, and to counsel employees in negotiating employment and severance agreements.

He also serves as an arbitrator and mediator of labor and employment disputes and as a municipal hearing officer for employment matters.

Earlier this week, I was quoted in the New Jersey Law Journal regarding the lawsuit Grethen Carlson recently filed against Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News Network.  Ms. Carlson alleges that Mr. Ailes sexually harassed her and eventually fired her as a Fox News anchor because she resisted his sexual advances.

Ms. Carlson filed her lawsuit in Bergen County, New Jersey.  However, Mr. Ailes had the case removed to Federal Court.  He is currently seeking to force the case into a confidential arbitration rather than a public court.  Mr. Ailes is relying on the fact that Ms. Carlson’s employment contract with Fox News includes an arbitration clause.

Judge to decide whether case must go to arbitrationAccording to the Law Journal article, Fox News Suit Could Hinge on Disparate Arbitration Stances in NY, NJ, Ms. Carlson is claiming the arbitration clause does not apply to her case because Mr. Ailes is not a party to her employment agreement with Fox News and is not even mentioned in it.  In contrast, Fox is arguing that a lawsuit against Mr. Ailes in his capacity as Fox’s CEO is in effect a lawsuit against the network, and that the arbitration clause is broad enough to encompass this dispute because it arises out of Ms. Carlson’s employment relationship with it.

Woman being sexually harassed by bossThe New Jersey Supreme recently ruled that evidence showing an employer told a key witness to provide false information during a company’s internal sexual harassment investigation can be relevant at the trial.

Tonique Griffin, Virginia Best and Rosalyn Walker, three female employees of the City of East Orange, claim their supervisor, Obed Prinvil, created a sexually hostile work environment for them.  Specifically, Ms. Griffin and Ms. Best claim Mr. Prinvil kissed them, and Ms. Walker alleges he repeatedly told her he was attracted to her, loved her and wanted to be “more than just friends,” and once tried to kiss her.

After the three women reported Mr. Prinvil’s harassment, the City hired an employment lawyer, Dina Mastellone, to investigate.  After Ms. Mastellone had finished interviewing witnesses, the City suggested she should interview one of the Mayor’s aides, Corletta Hicks.  Ms. Hicks then made negative statements to Ms. Mastellone about all three women, including that Ms. Griffin and Ms. Best “have always been a mess,” that Ms. Griffin “preys on older married men,” that she suspected Ms. Griffin had a “personal relationship” with Mr. Prinvil, and that Ms. Griffin had serious financial problems.  In contrast, Ms. Hicks described Mr. Prinvil as a “phenomenal director” who always acted professionally in the workplace.

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