A recent published opinion from the New Jersey Appellate Division recognizes that although the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ sincerely held religious belief, that requirement does not apply when the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Camden County Correctional FacilityLinda Tisby began working for the Camden County Correctional Facility (“Camden”) in 2002.  In 2015, she began practicing the Sunni Muslim faith.  In May 2015, she came to work wearing a Muslim khimar, which is a tight fitting head covering, but without a veil.  However, Camden has a policy regarding uniforms which prohibits employees from wearing any hats other than the ones issued by their departments.  Accordingly, Ms. Tisby’s supervisor told her she was violating Camden’s uniform policy, and could not work unless she removed her khimar.  When Ms. Tisby refused, her supervisor sent her home.  After this happened three more times, Camden suspended her for two days.

Camden then told Ms. Tisby that it considered her to have requested an accommodation for her religious belief pursuant to the LAD.  But while the employer recognized Ms. Tisby had a sincerely held religious belief, it denied her request on the basis that it would “constitute an undue hardship to the Department to allow an officer to wear head-coverings or other non-uniform clothing.”  Since Ms. Tisby refused to work without wearing her khimar, Camden fired her.

According to a recent report in the New Jersey Law Journal, New Jersey State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora is planning to propose legislation to improve paid family leave benefits.

New Jersey employees entitled to paid family leavesThe New Jersey Paid Family Leave Act, which was passed in 2009, permits eligible employees to take up to 6 weeks of paid family leave per year.  Employees who take family leave receive up to two-thirds of their compensation, with a maximum benefit of $615 per week.

Assemblyman Gusciora is seeking to add protection against retaliation for employees who take time off under the Paid Family Leave Act.  Although there are many other statutes that protect employees against retaliation under certain circumstances, currently there is no such protection in the Act.

Minimum wage increases in NJ and NYStarting on January 1, 2017, the minimum wage has increased in New York State, New York City and New Jersey.  Specifically:

New Jersey

The minimum wage has increased from $8.38 to $8.44 per hour as a cost of living increase.  Under New Jersey law, there will be additional cost of living increases in future years.

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.

A recent case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reinforces the fact that an employee who objects to something he reasonably believes violates the law does not have to be correct to be protected by New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”).

Police Officers Interacting with CitizensPolice Officers Anthony Galiazzi, Charles Holland and John Williamson work for the Camden Police Department.  They objected to the department’s “directed patrols” policy because they believed it violated New Jersey’s anti-quota law.  Under Camden’s policy, police officers were required to speak to at least 18 (and in some instances at least 27) residents per shift for up to 15-20 minutes each.

Officers Galiazzi, Holland and Williamson objected to the directed patrols policy because they believed it violated New Jersey’s anti-quota law, which prevents police departments from requiring police officers to issue a minimum number of arrests or citations.  Among other things, they claim Camden retaliated against them in violation of CEPA by transferring them from the elite unit to regular patrol duty, reducing their salaries, taking away vacation, placing limits on their sick leave and having the Internal Affairs unit investigate them.

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 recent ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in a sexual harassment retaliation case holds that an employer can be liable if it negligently fires an employee due to the discriminatory or retaliatory animus of an employee who was not a supervisor.

Andrea Vasquez worked for Empress Ambulance Service, Inc. as an emergency medical technician.  One of her coworkers, Tyrell Gray, repeatedly asked her out on dates, tried to flirt with her and put his arm around hers and touched her shoulders.  Mr. Gray’s conduct was unwelcome and made Ms. Vazquez uncomfortable.

Female employee receives sexually harassing text message.For instance, on January 8, 2014 Mr. Gray asked Ms. Vasquez to go on a date with him.  Ms. Vazquez made it clear she was not interested.  Later that evening Mr. Gray texted Ms. Vazquez a picture of his penis.  Extremely upset, embarrassed and in tears, at the end of her shift Ms. Vazquez complained to her supervisor and began typing a sexual harassment complaint.

A recent ruling from the United Stated Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a wage and hour lawsuit holds that an employer cannot use the fact that it voluntarily paid its employees during their lunch to offset periods when employees worked but were not paid.  The Third Circuit is the federal appellate court that handles cases from several districts, including the District of New Jersey.

The case was brought by Bobbi-Jo Smiley, Amber Blow, and Kelsey Turner, three former employees of E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co. and Adecco USA, Inc. (collectively, “DuPont”), as a potential class and collective action.  They claimed DuPont failed to pay them overtime for a total of approximately 30 to 60 minutes per day for time they spent (1) “donning and doffing,” meaning putting on and taking off their uniforms and protective gear, and (2) “shift relief,” meaning updating the employees who would be relieving them on the next shift.  Since the employees routinely worked more than 40 hours per week, they claimed they were entitled to time-and-a-half for these additional pre-shift and post-shift overtime hours.

Workers on Paid Lunchbreak Entitled to OvertimeThe workers sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and a similar state wage and hour law.  After 160 workers joined the lawsuit, DuPont filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to have the case dismissed.  The company argued that because it had voluntarily paid the workers during their lunch and other meal breaks – something it was not legally required – those payments should offset any additional overtime pay which the employees might be entitled to receive.  The trial court agreed and dismissed the case since the paid meal breaks were longer than the unpaid donning and doffing and shift relief time.  The employees appealed.

Contact Information