New Jersey Law Prohibits Refusal to Renew Contract Because Employee is Over 70 Years Old

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of age. Among other things, it prohibits employers from firing, refusing to hire or requiring an employee to retire because of their age.

However, the LAD expressly does not prohibit employers from refusing to hire or promote a person over 70 years old. As a result, someone who is not hired or promoted because they are over seventy years old does not have an age discrimination claim under the LAD.

On April 23, 2009, in Nini v. Mercer County Community College, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that this over-seventy exception does not apply to a company’s failure to renew an employment contract. In other words, a company violates the LAD if it decides not to renew an employment contract of an individual who is over 70 years old based on the employee’s age.

The case involves Rose Nini, who worked as an executive assistant for Mercer County Community College (MCCC) from 1979 to June 30, 2005. She worked pursuant to a series of renewable employment contracts. In June 2005, MCCC chose not to renew her contract for an additional three years term. At the time, Ms. Nini was 73 years old.

According to Ms. Nini, she had substantial evidence of age discrimination. For example, during the nearly 25 years before MCCC told her it might not renew her contract, she never received a poor performance review. Her supervisor then made it clear that he thought she should not be working at her age, that other employees her age were considering retiring, and that he thought she should retire too. Several MCCC department heads also discussed “age and incompetence,” “dead wood,” and made jokes about getting rid of the “oldest employees.” Ms. Nini also heard that MCCC’s Human Relations Director said the college needed to “get rid of the old-timers” and “bring in new blood.”

In analyzing the LAD’s exception regarding the right not to hire or promote an employee over seventy years old, the Appellate Division stated that the nonrenewal of a contract is the equivalent of a termination, rather than a refusal to hire. Previous New Jersey cases have recognized there is little or no difference between failing to extend or renew an employment contract and a decision to fire an employee. Thus, the Court ruled that the over-seventy exception does not apply to a decision not to renew an employment contract, meaning it violates the LAD if an employer chooses not to renew the contract of an employee because she is over 70 years old. Accordingly, the Court sent the case back to the lower Court so Ms. Nini could further pursue her age discrimination case.

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