Articles Posted in Discrimination

Earlier this month, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey permitted an employee to continue with his claim that his employer harassed him because he is disabled, but dismissed his other disability discrimination claims.

Francis Gavin worked for Haworth, Inc. in various sales roles.  Mr. Gavin has a back disability which required him to undergo several surgeries and time off from work.  Most recently, he took off two weeks after lumbar spinal fusion surgery in August 2012.  He returned to work gradually, with medical restrictions for approximately 4 ½ months.

Employee with back disability can pursue harassment claim.After he returned to work, Mr. Gavin’s supervisor, Henry Pizoli, frequently made disparaging comments about his back condition.  For example, he commented about the fact that Mr. Gavin had to wear a duragesic patch and a back brace, saying it “doesn’t look good in front of customers” and asked him in front of a customer if he would be “able to work normally without this [back condition] being the center of attention.”  Mr. Pizoli also told Mr. Gavin he “should have never come back to work” after his surgery, and repeatedly suggested he should “leave.”

EEOC Issues New National Origin Discrimination Enforcement GuidanceLast month, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a new Enforcement Guidance regarding national origin discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).

While the Guidance is not legally binding, it explains the position of the Commissioner of the EEOC.  Below is a brief overview of some of the most noteworthy topics it addresses:

Definition of National Origin

Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s decision that had dismissed Robert Benning’s disability discrimination lawsuit because the trial court improperly ignored evidence which supported his claim.

Custodian claims disability discrminationMr. Benning is disabled.  Specifically, he has cognitive impairment from an episode of cardiac arrest in 1984, which causes him difficulty with his short-term memory and processing new information.

In September 2006, Mr. Benning began working for the Middlesex Regional Education Services Commission (“Middlesex”).  Although he initially served as a teacher’s aide, he quickly began to work as custodian.  Between 2006 through 2009, he consistently received positive performance ratings.

Earlier this month, New Jersey’s Appellate Division recognized that New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”)’s prohibition against ancestry discrimination does not prevent employers from discriminating against an individual because he is related to another employee.

In 2011, John Walsifer applied for one of two vacant positions as a police officer with the Borough of Belmar. Of the job applicants, Mr. Walsifer had the second highest score on the Civil Service test.  Erik Lieb, a military veteran, was at the top of the Civil Service list.  Michael Yee, who already worked for Belmar as a special police officer, was third on the list.

Belmar chose to hire Mr. Lieb and Mr. Yee and did not offer a job to Mr. Walsifer.  It was required to give a preference to Mr. Lieb in the hiring process because of his veteran status.  The Borough claimed it offered the position to Mr. Yee because of his experience as a special police officer, the related police training he had received, and the fact the he already was authorized to carry a service weapon.

A potential amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) would make it illegal for employers to ask prospective employees about their wage and salary history before hiring them.  The LAD is an anti-discrimination law that protects New Jersey employees from discrimination, harassment and related retaliation.

Employee providing copy of paycheck to potential employerIntroduced last month by Senators Nia H. Gill (Dem. Essex/Passaic) and Loretta Weinberg (Dem. Bergen), the bill would make it unlawful for an employer to reject or screen a job applicant based on his or her past salary or wages.  More specifically, it would prohibit employers from having a minimum or maximum requirement for job applicants in terms of past salary, wages or benefits.  It also would prohibit employers from relying on a job applicant’s previous compensation at any time during the hiring process, up to and including finalizing an employment contract or job offer.

In addition, the proposed amendment to the LAD would make it unlawful for an employer to inquire about a job candidate’s compensation and benefits history, either in writing or otherwise unless the candidate voluntarily provided the employer a written authorization to obtain his or her compensation or benefits history.

Disabled employee firedA New Jersey court recently ruled that a jury must determine whether an employer committed disability discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) by firing an employee for making a mistake on a day on which he had asked to be on a medical leave.

Matthew Cook worked for Gregory Press, Inc. as a printing machine operator.  In 2011, he began to experience neck pain, numbness and tingling in face, and tingling in his hands.  He saw a doctor who recommended an MRI.

In the meantime, Mr. Cook’s home was flooded and severely damaged by Hurricane Irene.  He took almost a week off from work to repair his home.

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.

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.”

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.

Last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), which includes a prohibition against marital status discrimination, not only makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employee because they are married or single but also because they are separated, engaged, or seeking a divorce.

Robert Smith worked for the Millville Rescue Squad for 17 years, most recently as its Director of Operations.  Mr. Smith’s wife, Mary Smith, also worked for the Squad.  In 2005, Mr. Smith had an affair with one of his subordinates.  When Mrs. Smith learned about her husband’s affair, she reported it to his immediate supervisor, John Redden.

Employers Cannot Discriminate Based on DivorceIn early 2006, Mr. Smith moved out of his home and told Mr. Redden that his marriage had collapsed.  On February 16, 2006, Mr. Smith told Mr. Redden he did not think there was any chance he would reconcile with his wife.  In response, Mr. Redden indicated that he expected it would be an “ugly divorce.”  Mr. Redden also told Mr. Smith he had previously discussed the issue with the Squad’s Board of Directors, but would not have done so if he believed there was any chance Mr. Smith would reconcile with his wife.  Mr. Redden fired Mr. Smith the next day.

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