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New Jersey Supreme Court enforces arbitration agreement in age discrimination caseLast week, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that, to be enforceable, an arbitration agreement does not necessarily have to set forth the rules or procedures that will apply in arbitration or to select a forum for the arbitration.

The case involved Marilyn Flanzman, who worked for Jenny Craig as a weight maintenance counselor in Paramus, New Jersey, for almost 27 years.  In 2011, she signed an Arbitration Agreement with Jenny Craig.  That agreement states that all disputes, including discrimination claims, must be resolved through “final and binding arbitration” rather than a jury or other civil trial.

In February 2017, Jenny Craig reduced Ms. Flanzman from thirty-five hours per week to nineteen hours per week.  At the time, Ms. Flanzman was 82 years old.  In April 2017, Jenny Craig further reduced Ms. Flanzman’s hours, to approximately thirteen hours per week.  In June 2017, the company reduced her to only three hours per week.  When Ms. Flanzman complained to her supervisors, they told her: “That is just the way it is,” and that if she did not accept her new schedule she would be fired.  Ms. Flanzman, who apparently was the only employee in Paramus whose hours were reduced so dramatically, rejected the three-hour-per-week schedule.

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause bars employees who work for religious institutions from bringing any employment discrimination claims against their employers if their jobs include performing “vital religious duties.”

Religious teachers not subject to anti-discrimination lawsThe decision stems from lawsuits filed by two elementary school teachers, Agnes Morrissey-Berru and Kristen Biel.  Ms. Morrissey-Berru worked for a Catholic school, Our Lady of Guadalupe School.  Ms. Biel worked for another Catholic school, the St. James School.  Although neither Ms. Morrissey-Berru nor Ms. Biel had the title of minister, they each taught all subjects, including religion, and were required to develop and promote the Catholic faith as part of their jobs.

Our Lady of Guadalupe reduced Ms. Morrissey-Berru from full-time to part-time, and subsequently decided not to renew her employment contract.  Ms. Morrissey-Berru filed a lawsuit in which she claimed the school did so because of her age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The school claims it made those decisions because Ms. Morrissey-Berru had difficulty administering a new reading and writing program that it implemented.

A recent United States Supreme Court opinion, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, rightfully received a lot of attention because it recognizes that federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation.

Federal law prohibits sexual orientation discrimination Although New Jersey and New York law both expressly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the primary federal anti-discrimination law, does not.  Bostock recognizes that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of gender discrimination, and thus violates Title VII.  That is a huge victory for gay and lesbian rights, since it extends the prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination to all 50 states.

While the holding of Bostock relates to sexual orientation discrimination, its reasoning makes it easier to prove all forms of unlawful discrimination.  Specifically, it explains that you can prove discrimination merely by showing you would not have been fired (or would not have experienced another adverse employment action, such as being demoted or not being hired) but-for your membership in a legally-protected category such as your gender, race, religion or national origin.

In need of a family leave? Mother working from home during COVID-19 pandemicThe New Jersey Family Leave Act (“NJFLA”) has been amended yet again, this time in response to the coronavirus epidemic.

Signed into law by Governor Murphy on April 14, 2020, the amendment creates additional reasons why an otherwise eligible employee may use job protected family leave when there is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease.  The amendment is retroactive to March 25, 2020.

In addition to the previous justifications for an employee taking family leave, including so the employee can provide care made necessary by reason of the birth or adoption of a child, or the “serious health condition” of the employee’s family member, the amendment creates a whole new category of circumstances that now qualify as a basis for a job-protected family leave.

Last week, the New Jersey’s Appellate Decision recognized that an employer cannot retaliate against an employee because he refused to lie to support the company defend against another employee’s sexual harassment lawsuit.  While that might seem obvious, the twist is that the employee alleging retaliation did not even know the other employee’s case involved sexual harassment.

Emiliano Rios is an emergency medical technician (“EMT”).  He worked for Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center as the Supervisor of the Emergency Medical Services Department (“EMS”).

EMT's retaliation lawsuit reinstatedIn April 2014, one of Mr. Rios’s coworkers, Heatherlee Bailey, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the hospital.  However, Mr. Rios was completely unaware that Ms. Bailey had been sexually harassed.

Unemployed due to CoronavirusOur New Jersey employment lawyers understand that times are extremely difficult for pretty much everyone right now.  But, fortunately, you still have significant rights in the workplace.

Being sheltered in place or quarantined and having to engage in social distancing have become the new normal.  The economy has taken an enormous hit, and things that used to be simple like buying groceries and finding supplies like toilet paper and paper towels suddenly have become challenging.

Your Employment Law Rights Are Not on Hold

We are all in a state of high anxiety over COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus.  While we need to put personal and community health concerns first, nobody should have to lose his or her job as a result of this crisis.

But what are your New Jersey employment law rights as they relate to this pandemic?

Time off from Work

Today, in Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot discriminate against employees for using prescribed medical marijuana while off-duty.  Rather, doing so constitutes disability discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

The New Jersey Supreme Court affirms a March 17, 2019 Appellate Division opinion.  The Supreme Court’s opinion makes it clear that the Compassionate Use Act does not require employers to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace.  It also noted that the Compassionate Use Act does not permit anyone to operate or control any “vehicle, aircraft, railroad train, stationary heavy equipment or vessel while under the influence of marijuana.”  But the Supreme Court’s opinion holds that the LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for using prescribed medical marijuana outside of work.

For more information about the case, please see my previous article:  New Jersey Employers Can’t Discriminate for Medical Marijuana Use Outside of Work.

The New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Last month, New Jersey’s Appellate Division analyzed the New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”).  The PWFA is an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) that prohibits pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Among other things, the PWFA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to women who are pregnant.  For example, this can include providing bathroom breaks, rest breaks, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, and temporary assignment to less strenuous or less hazardous work.  However, employers do not have to provide an accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship on it.

Rumored affair can be sexual harassment in New JerseyA recent opinion by New Jersey’s Appellate Division recognizes that false rumors of a sexual relationship between a female employee and a male superior can create a legally actionable hostile work environment.

Jennifer Schiavone is a senior corrections officer for the New Jersey Department of Corrections (“DOC”).  In 2013, the DOC assigned Officer Schiavone to work in the Central Control Unit (“Central Control”), which is a desirable job because it does not involve direct contact with inmates.

Shortly after the DOC transferred Officer Schiavone to Central Control, rumors began to spread that she was having an extra-marital affair with a high-level DOC official, “S.D.”  Even though Officer Schiavone denied that she was having an affair with S.D., their supposed relationship became the subject of nearly daily conversation at work.  For example, on one occasion Officer Julie Houseworth asked Officer Schiavone if she planned to “blow” S.D.  Another time, Lieutenant Zsuzsanna Rogoshewski said: “That’s her over there, that’s who’s sleeping with the [high-ranking official],” referring to Officer Schiavone and S.D.