Articles Tagged with harassment

One potential defense an employer has in a sexual harassment case is that the employee unreasonably failed to make use of the employer’s anti-harassment policy.  A recent New Jersey Appellate Division opinion highlights the fact that this defense does not apply if the harassment led to an adverse employment action, such as the employee being fired, demoted, or suspended without pay.

Supervisor sexually harassing an employeeRamona McBride worked as a sales trainee for a car dealership, Foulke Management Corp., dba Atlantic Jeep Chrysler Fiat.  She alleges her immediate supervisor, sales manager Jack Dellafave, made sexual advances toward her and fired her because she rejected his advances.

The harassment started with Mr. Dellafave sending Ms. McBride text messages in which he told her that he was “attracted” to her, invited her to his hotel room, and offered to pay for her cab ride to his hotel.  Ms. McBride declined each of those offers.

Yesterday, a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that two racially offensive slurs uttered by a supervisor can be enough to create a hostile work environment in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”).

Armando Rios, Jr. is Hispanic.  He worked for Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc. as its Director of Brand Marketing.  His immediate supervisor, Tina Cheng-Avery, was Meda’s Senior Director of Commercial Operations.

Two Racial Slurs Enough to Create Hostile Work EnvironmentMr. Rios claims Ms. Cheng-Avery made two racial slurs toward him.  First, he claims that when he was discussing his plans to purchase a new house, Ms. Cheng-Avery said “it must be hard for a Spi*k to have to get FHA loans.”  Second, he claims that the following month, when he and Ms. Cheng-Avery were casting actresses for a television commercial for one of Meda’s products, Ms. Cheng-Avery said one of the actress auditioning “would work … if she didn’t look too Spi*ky.”  Ms. Cheng-Avery denies she made either of those comments.

Workplace bullying can violate employee handbookUnder New Jersey law it is unlawful for an employer to harass an employee because she belongs to a legally-protected category, such as because of her gender, age, race or disability.  But the law does not necessarily prohibit a boss from bullying or indiscriminately harassing other employees.

Nonetheless, earlier this year, in Maselli v. Valley National Bankcorp., New Jersey’s Appellate Division recognized that under certain circumstances an employee can sue her employer for bullying in violation of a company’s anti-harassment policy.

By way of background, almost 25 years ago the New Jersey Supreme Court established that employee handbooks and other similar policies are presumed to be binding contracts.  However, the Court created an exception for policies that include prominent disclaimers that make it clear they document is not an enforceable contract.  As a result, most employee handbooks now include bold disclaimers stating that they are not contracts.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently recognized that a supervisor’s single use of a racial epithet can be enough, on its own, to create a hostile work environment under federal law.  This is consistent with longstanding president under both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the New York State Human Rights Law.

Racial Harassment Based on Single Discriminatory RemarkThe case was brought by Atron Castleberry and John Brown, both of whom worked as laborers for Chesapeake Energy Corporation through a staffing-placement agency, STI Group.  Mr. Castleberry and Mr. Brown are African American.

Mr. Castleberry and Mr. Brown allege they were exposed to racist behavior at their job.  For example, they claim that someone wrote “don’t be black on the right of way” on the sign-in sheet several different times. They also indicate that, despite having more experience working on pipelines, Chesapeake did not permit them to work on pipelines other than to clean them.

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