New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog
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Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that private claims under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (NJCRA) are limited to claims against individuals who were acting “under color” of state law. In other words, you can bring a private lawsuit under the NJCRA, but only against someone who was acting in his or her capacity as an employee or agent of the state or local government.

Bitters and infusions on bar counter with blurred bottles in bacThe case was brought by Maryann Cottrell, a resident of Glassboro, New Jersey. Ms. Cottrell apparently made negative comments about Zagami LLC at its public liquor license renewal hearing. Zagami is a company that owns a restaurant and bar in Glassboro. The company subsequently sued Cottrell, claiming her statements at the hearing were defamatory.
Zagami’s lawsuit eventually was dismissed by the Appellate Division. It found that since the liquor license renewal hearing was a “quasi-judicial” proceeding, Ms. Cottrell’s statements at it were protected by absolute immunity, meaning she could not be sued for anything she said at the hearing.

Ms. Cottrell then sued Zagami for malicious use of process, claiming its defamation lawsuit was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (also known as a “SLAPP suit”) since it was baseless and intended to retaliate against her for speaking out against Zagami at the hearing and to deter her from doing so again in the future. Ms. Cottrell also brought a claim under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (NJCRA), a state law that provides remedies for certain violations of the United States and New Jersey Constitution. For more information about the NJCRA, please read our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.

The trial court dismissed Ms. Cottrell’s case, finding there was probable cause for Zagami to bring a defamation claim, meaning there was a good enough basis for the company to file its defamation lawsuit that Ms. Cottrell could not prove that lawsuit was brought maliciously. The lower court also dismissed Ms. Cottrell’s NJCRA claim, ruling you cannot bring a private lawsuit under the NJCRA unless the defendant was acting under color of law.

The Appellate Division reversed on both of those issues. If concluded there was no probable cause for Zagami’s defamation lawsuit, and therefore Ms. Cottrell could proceed with her malicious abuse of process claim. It also ruled that the NJCRA does permit private claims against individuals who were not acting under color of law, as long as the lawsuit alleges the plaintiff was deprived of one of his or her protected rights, in this case the right to free speech.

However, last week in Cottrell v. Zagami, LLC and a companion case, Perez v. Zagami, LLC, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division’s ruling with respect to Ms. Cottrell’s NJCRA claim. It held the NJCRA creates a private cause of action only against individuals who are acting under color of law. Accordingly, since Zagami is a private company and not a government agency, it cannot be sued under the NJCRA.

The Supreme Court noted that Ms. Cottrell still has a remedy for Zagami’s effort to deter her from publically speaking about matters of public interest at a municipal hearing. Specifically, she still can continue to pursue her malicious use of process claim.

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While minorities are most frequently the victims of discrimination, it is well-established that reverse discrimination also violates the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). For example, it is unlawful for a company to discriminate against an employee because he is male, white, or under 40 years old. However, since reverse discrimination is less common, New Jersey courts have established a higher standard for employees who bring reverse discrimination or harassment claims by requiring them to present evidence that they work for the unusual employer that discriminates against the majority.

WarehouseA recent decision out of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey denied an employer’s motion to dismiss a claim of reverse race discrimination, finding the employee had enough evidence to meet this heightened standard. The court explained there are two categories of evidence that employees can use to help meet this standard: (1) evidence that the specific employer has a reason to want to discriminate against the majority, and (2) evidence there is “something ‘fishy’” about the facts of the case that suggests the employer is discriminating.

The case was brought by Frank McQuillan, who worked for Petco Animal Supplies Stores, Inc., as an order picker at a distribution center in Monroe, New Jersey. Mr. McQuillan claims Petco harassed him because he is Caucasian.

Mr. McQuillan was the only Caucasian employee who worked on the floor of the distribution center. He alleges (1) his supervisors and most of his coworkers were Hispanic; (2) signs were posted in the workplace in Spanish without English translations; (4) his coworkers constantly referred to him by the terms “gringo” and “maricon,” which are derogatory terms for foreigners and homosexuals, respectively; (3) a manager praised Mr. McQuillan’s work by saying it was “not bad for a white boy;” and (4) the company’s management did not take any actions to stop the harassment. He also claims the company caused him to have lower productivity than his coworkers by not giving him a headset that would have made it easier to perform one aspect of his job even though it provided them to non-Caucasian employees who were hired after him, and by assigning him to lift heavier pallets than his non-Caucasian peers. The court found these facts, if proven, could meet the heightened standard to prove reverse discrimination because they could support an inference that Petco is the unusual employer that discriminates against employees because they are white.

The court also found that Mr. McQuillan’s allegations are sufficient to support a harassment claim. To be legally actionable, harassment has to be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. The court noted that even though each individual act of harassment Mr. McQuillan experience was not severe enough to be actionable on its own, when considered together they could create a hostile work environment and therefore could be legally actionable. Accordingly, in McQuillan v. Petco Animal Supplies Stores, Inc. the court denied Petco’s motion to dismiss Mr. McQuillan’s harassment claim, thereby providing him an opportunity to try to prove his case.

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A recent federal case from the District of New Jersey denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment on an employee’s sexual harassment case, paving the way for a jury trial. In the process, the court provided a good overview of what an employee needs to prove to be able to survive such a motion and get a case to a jury.

Joan Lane worked as a Material Handler for Sears Logistics Services, Inc. She was the only female who held this role on her floor. She claims the Material Handler Lead for her shift, Louis Fine, engaged in unwelcome conduct toward her including (1) calling her a “b*tch;” (2) calling her “dumb;” (3) “inviting her to [his] penis;” (4) claiming “all [she] wants is my d*ck;” (5) telling her to sit on his face; (6) making sexual gestures to her; and (7) claiming a temporary employee wanted her body. Ms. Lane eventually filed a lawsuit against her employer claiming Mr. Fine created a sexually hostile work environment for her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).

Sexual HarassmentAs the court explained, in a sexual harassment case the employee has to prove the conduct toward her (1) would not have occurred but for her gender, and (2) was severe or pervasive (frequent) enough (3) to make a reasonable woman believe the terms and conditions of her employment were changed and her work environment is hostile or abusive. The judge found Ms. Lane has enough evidence to meet each of those requirements. He indicated that even though Mr. Fine denied Ms. Lane’s allegations, for purposes of deciding a motion for judgment the court has to assume all of her testimony and evidence is true because it is the jury’s job to decide who is telling the truth. The judge further recognized that Ms. Lane’s evidence could support the conclusion that she was the victim of severe or pervasive sexual harassment. Moreover, he found a jury could conclude the harassment occurred because of her gender since she was the only female Material Handler on her floor and some of Mr. Fine’s conduct toward her was sexual in nature.

In addition, the court ruled that Sears Logistics could be held liable for Mr. Fine sexually harassing Ms. Lane. One of the most common reasons a company can be liable for harassment committed by one of its employees is if the harasser is a supervisor. In this context, a supervisor is someone who “has the authority to hire, fire, discipline, control employees’ wages or control employees’ schedules,” or someone the victim of the harassment reasonably believes has that authority. The court found a jury could conclude Mr. Fine was Ms. Lane’s supervisor since she testified he told her he was responsible for directing her daily work environment.

The court indicated a second way a jury can hold Sears Logistic responsible for Mr. Fine sexually harassing Ms. Lane is based on evidence the company did not have an effective anti-harassment policy and its response to Ms. Lane’s complaints about Mr. Fine’s harassment was inadequate. Under New Jersey Law, a company that does not have a sufficient anti-harassment policy can be held liable for harassment committed by its employees. Ms. Lane presented evidence that the company did not even bother to interview her as part of its investigation into her harassment complaint. In addition, there is evidence suggesting the company never disciplined Mr. Fine for his behavior toward her. Accordingly, in Jane v. Sears Logistic Services, Inc., the District Court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment so a jury can decide whether the company is liable for sexual harassment.

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Last last year, I discussed a federal case, Wang v. Phoenix Satellite TV US, Inc., which concludes that New York Law Does Not Protect Unpaid Interns From Sexual Harassment.  While that still may be true in the rest of New York State, New York City recently amended its anti-discrimination law to make it clear that both paid and unpaid interns are protected by the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

Manager with employee working in officeSpecifically, on April 15, 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law an amendment to the New York City administrative code which will protect interns in the same way the code currently protects employees.  The law goes into effect sixty days after it was signed.  As a result, starting on June 16, 2014, New York City law will protect interns who work in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island from discrimination based on their actual or perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation, alienage, citizenship, or status as a victim of domestic violence, a sex offense or stalking.  Likewise, New York City law will prohibit employers from harassing interns based on any of those categories, including prohibiting sexually harassment.  It also will prohibit employers from retaliating against interns because they complain about employment discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

The new law defines “intern” to include anyone who (1) receives training or supplements the training they are receiving in an educational environment and (2) receives work experience for the benefit of an employer, and (3) does so under the close supervision of an employer’s staff.  It includes such individuals irrespective of whether he or she is paid or unpaid.  It is unclear whether this may leave a gap of individuals who do not fit the administrative code’s definition of either “employee” or “intern,” such as individuals who receive the required training or work experience, but not both.  However, the alternative potentially would have covered students who receive training for universities and other educational institutions, a group which the New York City Council apparently did not intend to protect.

In its report supporting the amendment, the New York City Council’s Committee on Civil Rights noted that 69% of companies with at least 100 employees had internships in 2012, and that 63% of college graduates in 2012 had participated in at least one internship.  It further recognized that since interns tend to be relatively young, inexperienced and either unpaid or under paid, they are particularly vulnerable in the workplace.  It therefore was concerned that the Wang case concluded they are not protected by the NYCHRL, and wanted to amend the law so it unquestionably protects them in the same way as any other employee.

Whether the rest of New York State follows suit and protects interns from discrimination, harassment and retaliation is yet to be seen.  Until then, at least New York City will provide that protection.

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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently reinstated an employee’s class action overtime pay lawsuit under Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (NJWHL).  In doing so it recognized successor companies can be liable for their predecessors’ overtime violations, and individual owners and supervisors can be held personally liable under both of those laws.

Real estate concept - business-man signs contract behind househoPatricia Thompson was hired by Security Atlantic Mortgage Company as a mortgage underwriter in June 2009.  Security Atlantic quickly assigned her to provide training at a related company, Real Estate Mortgage Network (REMN).  In February 2010, Security Atlantic stopped doing business and Ms. Thompson began working directly for REMN.  Otherwise, her job and the business remained essentially the same.

Ms. Thompson claims Security Atlantic and REMN both failed to pay her and other mortgage underwriters time-and-a-half when they worked more than 40 hours per week, in violation of both the FLSA and the NJWHL.  Specifically, she alleges mortgage underwriters worked through lunch and at home to complete their assignments on time, but were not paid overtime because the companies misclassified them as exempt employees.

Ms. Thompson sued Security Atlantic, REMN, and two co-owners of Security Atlantic, Samuel Lamparello and Noel Chapman.  However, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed the entire case. 

In Thompson v. Real Estate Mortgage Network the Third Circuit reversed, ruling Ms. Thompson’s allegations could support finding that Security Atlantic and REMN were her joint employers.  Joint employment is when two or more companies “exert significant control” over the same employee.  I discussed the test to determine whether a company is a joint employer in a previous article, Third Circuit Holds Parent Company Not Responsible For Wholly-Owned Subsidiary’s Overtime Violations.

In reaching this conclusion, the court relied on Ms. Thompson’s claim that Security Atlantic hired her but an REMN trained her; Security Atlantic called REMN its “sister company;” and virtually every employee of Security Atlantic seamlessly became an employee of REMN in June 2010.  However, it cautioned that additional evidence ultimately might establish that Security Atlantic and REMN were too independent to be considered joint employers.

The Third Circuit also concluded the allegations could support finding REMN liable for REMN’s overtime violations as Security Atlantic’s successor in interest.  Under federal law, the factors to determine successor liability are (1) the continuity between the workforce and business operations of the two companies, (2) whether the successor had notice of the predecessor’s legal obligations, and (3) the predecessor’s ability to pay its legal obligation.  It found support for the first factor since Ms. Thompson claims after February 2010 REMN operated the same as Security Atlantic had in the past.  It found support for the second factor since most of REMN’s former management worked for Security Atlantic, making it likely they were aware of any past overtime violations.  Likewise, it found support for the third factor since REMN is apparently defunct, suggesting it would be unable to pay any damages awarded to Ms. Thompson.

Finally, the Third Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision to dismiss the two individual defendants, Mr. Lamparello and Mr. Chapman, from the case.  It explained that a company’s owner, officer or supervisor can be personally liable as a joint employer under the FLSA if he or she had (1) supervisory authority over the employee and (2) some responsibility for the alleged violation.  Since Ms. Thompson alleges Mr. Lamparello and Mr. Chapman are co-owners of REMN, run the company’s day-to-day operations and make decisions about hiring, firing and compensation, they potentially could be personally liable for the alleged overtime violations.

 

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because they are disabled.  It defines a “disability” as a physical or psychological impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.  As a result, not every impairment is a disability.  In contrast, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), the New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) all have significantly broader definitions of the term “disability” including relatively minor mental and physical impairments.

in officeLate last month, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that an impairment that prohibits an employee for sitting for too long can be a disability even under the ADA.  The employee, Carmen Parada, worked for Banco Industrial de Venezuela, C.A.  Approximately six months after she started working for the bank, Ms. Parada fell and hurt her back.  As a result, she no longer is able to sit for a prolonged period.  According to one of her medical reports, she is able to sit for only 15 minutes before she has to stand.

Ms. Parada asked the bank for an ergonomic chair which she believed would have allowed her to perform her job.  The bank did not respond to her requests so she asked again, this time offering to pay for the chair herself.  When she still did not receive any response she told the bank she could not continue to perform her job without a new chair.  When the bank’s Operations Manager finally told Ms. Parada he would discuss her request when he returned from a business trip she complained to the Compliance Officer and requested a leave of absence.  Ultimately, the bank fired Ms. Parada, claiming she failed to provide sufficient documentation to prove she was disabled and needed a medical leave, and declaring it considered her to have abandoned her job. 

Ms. Parada sued, claiming the bank committed disability discrimination in violation of the ADA, the NYHRL and the NYCHRL.  However, the District Court dismissed her ADA claim, ruling she was not disabled under it based on an earlier case, Colwell v. Suffolk County Police Department.  That case found a police officer who was unable to sit or stand for “too long” was not disabled for purposes of the ADA.

On appeal, the Second Circuit reversed.  It distinguished Colwell by explaining the employee in that case was too vague about his physical limitations.  It ruled that employees do not have to prove they are completely unable to sit to establish they are disabled with respect to the major life activity of sitting.  Rather, the relevant question is whether the employee is substantially impaired in his or her ability to sit in comparison to the average person.

The court further explained that the ADA requires employers and courts to make that determination on a case-by-case basis.  As a result, it would be improper to set a bright-line rule that only employees who are unable to sit at all are substantially impaired with respect to sitting.  In doing so it recognized that, under the right circumstances, even an employee who merely cannot sit for an extended period time could be disabled under the ADA.

Applying that law, in Parada v. Banco Industrial de Venezuela, C.A., the Second Circuit reversed the District Court’s order dismissing the case.  It instructed the lower court to analyze Ms. Parada’s impairments to determine whether her back injury meets the ADA’s definition of a disability.

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There are many ways to prove a retaliation claim.  Often, a key factor is the closeness in time between when the employee blows the whistle and when the employer takes an adverse employment action against her, such as firing or demoting her.  In most situations timing alone is not enough to prove retaliation. However, timing alone can be enough if it is “unusually suggestive” of retaliation.

There is no clear answer to how little time can be considered “unusually suggestive.”  But in a recent case the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled a jury can find retaliation because the employer fired the employee eight days after her last protected activity.

Retaliation in the workplace and the Fair Labor Standards ActZalinskie v. Rosner Law Offices, P.C., Linda Zalinskie claims her employer, Rosner Law Offices, P.C., fired her because she complained about violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  In contrast, the firm claims it spoke to Ms. Zalinskie about problems with her job performance and attitude nearly a year before she made these complaints, moved her into a new position at the time, and ultimately fired her because her performance and attitude did not improve.

In early September 2011, Ms. Zalinskie called the New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL) twice because the firm was giving her compensatory time off when she worked overtime instead of paying her time-and-a-half. She also submitted a written complaint to the NJDOL on September 4, 2011.

On September 19, Ms. Zalinskie called the NJDOL again because the law firm had docked her pay when she arrived to work 6 minutes late.  The following day she met with her supervisor and the firm’s office manager.  During the meeting, she complained about the firm docking her pay even though she was a salaried employee.  When asked why she believed this was unlawful, Ms. Zalinskie indicated she leaned it from the NJDOL.  The next day, the firm’s office manager asked Ms. Zalinskie to provide proof the firm had violated the law.

On September 23, 2011, an investigator from the NJDOL made an unannounced visit to the firm, claiming he was conducting a random audit.  Six days later, on September 29, 2011, the firm fired Ms. Zalinskie.  The firm says it decided to fire Ms. Zalinskie on September 21, 2012, the day on which it asked her to prove it was unlawful to dock her pay, but decided to wait to implement its decision.  Of course, the firm also claims it fired Ms. Zalinskie for poor performance rather than because of her complaints about violations of the FLSA.  In fact, it denies learning Ms. Zalinskie filed a complaint with the NJDOL until after it fired her.

Based on these facts, the court concluded there is enough evidence for a jury to find the firm fired Ms. Zalinskie because of her complaints to the NJDOL.  It found her termination was “almost contemporaneous” with her complaints to the NJDOL and the NJDOL’s audit of the firm because she was terminated “less than a month after she filed a written complaint with the NJDOL, eight days after she told [her boss] at the September 21, 2011 meeting that the source of her wage allegations was the NJDOL, and six days after” the NJDOL investigator audited the firm.  In contrast, although the firm could have fired her for poor performance for nearly a year, it did not decide to do so until shortly after she complained to the DOL.  Accordingly, the judge denied the firm’s motion for summary judgment, thereby giving Ms. Zalinskie a chance to try to prove her case to a jury.

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Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an unpublished summary order which reinstates an employee’s sexual harassment claim that had been dismissed.  However, in a separate published opinion issued on the same day the court upheld the dismissal of Ms. Castagna’s related tort claims because she did not file her lawsuit until after the statute of limitations had expired.

Boss shouting at assistantPatricia Castagna worked for Majestic Kitchens, Inc., as its receptionist.  She alleges Bill Luceno, who is the owner of the company and was Ms. Castagna’s supervisor, harassed her because of her sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”).  Prior to the appeal, the trial court had dismissed those claims because Ms. Castagna admitted Mr. Luceno treated virtually all of the company’s employees poorly.

In support of her sexual harassment claims, Ms. Castagna claims Mr. Luceno physically threatened her and two other female employees with physical violence, but never physically threatened any male employees.  For example, she claims that on one occasion he screamed and cursed before he shoved her computer monitor toward her, which caused her to fear for her safety. Although she acknowledges Mr. Luceno’s had outbursts toward both male and female employees of Majestic, she claims the most extreme outbursts were directed toward women, and that during some of his outbursts he referred to women as “bitch[es].”

In reversing the trial court, the Second Circuit explained that threats of physical violence can be very strong evidence to support a hostile work environment claim.  It also indicated the fact that Mr. Luceno only threatened women supported an inference that he was targeting them because of their gender.  It ultimately found all of the evidence, considered together, would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Ms. Castagna’s workplace was hostile and abusive because of her gender.  Accordingly, the court issued a summary order which reversed the trial court’s ruling that had granted summary judgment to Majestic.

The appellate court also reinstated Ms. Castagna’s constructive discharge claim, and asked the trial court to consider it on its merits.  The lower court had dismissed that claim on the basis that there is a higher standard to prove a constructive discharge than to prove an harassment claim, and it had found there was not enough evidence to support an harassment claim.  But since the Second Circuit disagreed and found there is enough evidence to support a hostile work environment claim, it instructed the trial court to determine whether there also is enough evidence to support a constructive discharge claim.

However, in a separate opinion the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of Ms. Castagna’s claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery because she filed them after the one year statute of limitations had expired.  It ruled that even though Ms. Castagna filed a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 300 days after the harassment occurred, and her tort claims are based on the same facts as her harassment claim, filing with the EEOC does not toll the one year statute of limitations on other claims.  Rather, if Ms. Castagna wanted to pursue her tort claims she needed to file a lawsuit within one year after the relevant events occurred instead of waiting until the EEOC finished its investigation into her harassment claim.  Accordingly, in a formal published opinion in Castagna v. Luceno, the court affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing Ms. Castagna’s tort claims.

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Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the whistleblower protection of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act applies not only to employees of publicly traded companies, but also to employees of privately held companies who perform work for the publicly traded company as contractors or subcontractors.

Corporate Tax FraudThe Sarbanes Oxley Act is a 2002 law that was passed in 2002 in response to the collapse of Enron Corporation.  It includes an anti-retaliation provision that prohibits public companies, as well as their employees and agents from firing, harassing, demoting, suspending, or otherwise discriminating against employees who blow the whistle on certain activities prohibited by the Act.

The case, Lawson v. FMR LLC, involves the Fidelity family of mutual funds, which has no employees of its own.  The whistleblowers were Jonathan M. Zang and Jackie Hosang Lawson, both of whom were employed by different subsidiaries of the same parent company, FMR LLC.  Their employers are private companies that manage and advise the Fidelity family of mutual funds.

Mr. Zang and Ms. Lawson claim they experienced retaliation after they reported fraud committed by the mutual funds.  Specifically, Mr. Zang claims he was fired and Ms. Lawson claims she experienced a series of adverse employment actions that eventually caused her to resign (a constructive discharge).

In determining whether Mr. Zang and Ms. Lawson are protected by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Supreme Court focused on the relevant language of the anti-retaliation provision, which prohibits any publicly traded company or any “officer, employee, contractor, subcontractor, or agent of such company” from retaliating against an employee who provides information or otherwise assists in certain investigations into possible violations of the Act.  The Court concluded that the plain meaning of this provision prohibits contractors and subcontractors from retaliating against their own employees, rather than merely prohibiting them from retaliating against employees of publicly traded companies.  It supported this interpretation on the basis that normally contractors and subcontractors can only terminate, demote or suspend employees of their own company, rather than employees of the publicly traded companies which they manage.

The Supreme Court further supported its ruling based on the fact that the collapse of Enron involved fraud by its private accounting firm, Arthur Andersen.  The Act was passed in part because employees of Arthur Andersen who reported the fraud experienced retaliation, including demotions and terminations as a result.  The court reasoned that if the whistleblower provisions only protected employees of publicly trades companies, then it would not protect employee of companies like Arthur Anderson who blow the whistle on fraud committed by a public traded company for which they work.  This would thwart the Act’s express purpose of “protect[ing] investors by improving the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures made pursuant to the securities laws.”

Accordingly, the Court held that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s whistleblower protection applies to individuals who work for publicly traded companies through privately held companies such as law firms, accounting firms and investment companies.  It therefore ruled that Mr. Zang and Ms. Lawson can proceed with their cases.

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The City of Newark recently enacted an ordinance requiring certain employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.  Newark is now the second city in New Jersey to pass a paid sick leave law.  As discussed in a previous article, effective January 24, 2014, Jersey City Law Requires Employers to Provide Paid Sick Leave.

To Whom Does the Law Apply?

The Ordinance applies to most employees who work in Newark for at least 80 hours per year.  However, it does not apply to the federal, state or local government, or to employees of any school district or Board of Education, including Rutgers University.

How Much Time Off Are Employees Entitled to Take?

Sick Female Employee Taking Paid Time Off From WorkCovered employees are entitled to accrue at least of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they actually work.  Companies are required to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year to any employees who are child care workers, home health care workers, or food service workers.  For other employees, companies with 10 or more employees are required to provide employees up to 40 hours of paid sick time per calendar year, and companies with fewer than 10 employees are required to provide up to 24 hours of paid sick time per year.

Employers must either allow employees to carry over a minimum of four hours of unpaid sick leave to the following calendar year, or pay employees for their unused sick time.  However, employers are not required to permit employees to use more than 40 hours of paid sick time during any given year.

For What Purposes Can Employees Use Their Paid Sick Time?

Employers must permit employees to use the paid sick time they earn for a variety of reasons including but not limited to:

  1. Their employee’s own (a) physical or mental illness, injury or health condition; (b) diagnosis with a physical or mental illness, injury or health condition; or (c) preventive medical care; and
  2. For the employee to care for a family member’s (a) mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition; (b) medical diagnosis of a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition; or (c) preventive medical care.

The law defines “family member” very broadly to include (1) spouses, civil union partners and domestic partners; (2) natural children, adopted children, stepchildren and foster children of the employee and the employee’s spouse, civil union partner or domestic partner; (3) grandparent and grandparents of the employee’s spouse, civil union partner or domestic partner; (4) grandchildren; and (5) siblings.

What Are the Requirements to Take Time Off?

For emergencies, employers must permit employees to take time off as long as they provide as much advance notice as practical.  For any other unforeseeable sick time, employers can require employees to request the time off before the beginning of their scheduled shifts.  When the need for paid sick leave is foreseeable, employers can require employees to provide up to seven days advance notice.

After an employee uses sick leave three days in a row, the employer can require a doctor’s note showing the need for the time off was covered by the Ordinance.  However, the employer cannot require an explanation of the nature of the illness.

Protection from Retaliation

The Ordinance prohibits retaliating against employees who properly exercise their rights under it.  This includes prohibiting employers from threatening, disciplining, firing, suspending, or taking other adverse actions against employee because they exercise their rights under it.

The statute goes into effect on May 29, 2014.  A copy of the full text is available on the City of Newark’s website.

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