Employment Law Blog

Categories: Discrimination

Two Year Statute of Limitations on NJLAD Claims Run From First Day After Plaintiff Comes Off Payroll

February 12, 2019

In a recent unreported decision of the New Jersey Appellate Division, the Court reaffirmed that the two year statute of limitations for claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. (“NJLAD”), begins to run from the first day after a plaintiff comes off payroll.

In Turner-Barnes v. Camden County College, N.J. Super. App. Div. L-2623-17 (Jan. 31, 2019) Plaintiff was terminated by letter, dated January 23, 2015, but it indicated she would remain on the payroll through June 30, 2015. Plaintiff filed her age and race discrimination complaint on June 29, 2017.

NJLAD is subject to a two year statute of limitations under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2(a) which means that an adverse employment action must have occurred within two years of filing suit. In Alderiso v. Medical Center of Ocean County, 167 N.J. 191 (2001), a whistleblower suit under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et seq. (“CEPA”), our Supreme Court held the controlling date for limitations purposes is not the date the employee receives notice of termination but the date on which pay ends, i.e., the first full day of unemployment. For clarity, the Supreme Court noted that “… the date of discharge for limitations purposes does not include any subsequent date on which severance, health or other … extended benefits are paid.” Id. at 199-200. Accordingly, in Turner-Barnes, the Appellate Division reversed the trial Court and held that Plaintiff’s Complaint was timely filed. As with CEPA claims, suits under the NJLAD must be brought within two years from the date of discharge, even if a Plaintiff receives severance thereafter.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Discrimination

The Importance of Engaging in a Pay Equity Study

February 4, 2019

Background on the Need for a Pay Equity Study
The recent passage of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (the “Act”) amended the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) to strengthen protections against employment discrimination and to promote equal pay for women and employees in other protected categories. The Act became effective on July 1, 2018. Being proactive under these new strict protections is of the utmost importance. As such, If you are a New Jersey employer, we urge you to engage in a “pay equity study.” The goal of which would be to develop an understanding of the Company’s current pay structures, and to either explain differences in pay among comparable employees or to correct pay differences that cannot be justified. Mandelbaum Salsburg's employment law attorneys stand ready to assist in this capacity.

It is now an unlawful employment practice under the LAD for an employer to pay any employee who is a member of a protected class less than the rate paid to other employees not members of that protected class for “substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility.” The Act does much more than just advocating gender pay equity. It expands equal pay on the basis of membership in the protected classes of the LAD, to include race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy or breastfeeding, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, or liability for service in the armed forces.

Limited Exceptions
There are very limited exceptions where an employer may pay a different rate of compensation to members of the protected class, including where a pay differential is due to seniority or a merit system. In all pay discrepancies, the employer must demonstrate each of the following:

  1. That the differential is based on one or more legitimate, bona fide factors other than the characteristics of members of the protected class, such as training, education or experience, or the quantity or quality of production;
  2. That the factor or factors are not, and do not perpetuate differential in compensation, based on sex or any other characteristic of members of a protected class;
  3. That each of the factors is applied reasonably;
  4. That one or more of the factors account for the entire wage differential; and
  5. That the factors are job-related with respect to the position in question and based on a legitimate business necessity.

What Exactly is Unlawful?
The Act provides that an unlawful employment practice occurs each time pay practices discriminate against an employee, and the employee can seek back pay for up to six (6) years. In this way the Act substantially lengthens the statute of limitations for claims based on pay equity to beyond the LAD’s normal, two (2) year statute of limitations.

If an employer is found guilty of violating the equal pay practices required by the Act, a judge or jury can award treble damages for the violation. Treble damages are also available to an employee who proves that the employer retaliated against her/him for requesting, discussing, or disclosing to (i) any other employee or former employee of the employer, (ii) a lawyer from whom the employee seeks legal advice, or (iii) any government agency, information regarding employee compensation/pay practices. Likewise, treble damages are available to an employee or prospective employee who is asked by the employer to sign a waiver regarding discussing or disclosing pay practices or rates.

A successful claimant will also be entitled to attorneys’ fees in a practice called “fee shifting.”

For all of these reasons, it is necessary to carefully review Company hiring and compensation practices to insure there is pay equity for employees who perform “substantially similar work” –the so-called pay equity study.

Advantages of a Pay Equity Study
A pay equity study will help your company reduce its potential liability by addressing three questions:

  • Which pay differences are at issue?
  • Whose pay should be compared?
  • What are the factors that explain differences in pay?
Specific and complete answers to the last question are critical. Absent being able to provide valid justifications and cogent explanations, your Company is potentially at great risk. The key challenge in finding these answers comes with the realization that the Company’s historic pay decisions were made one at a time, over an extended period of time and depended upon a variety of factors specific to the time at which they were made. Ultimately, the Company must able to explain and justify the cumulative results of all past pay decisions; a potentially difficult task.

Most companies keep a close eye on some of their pay decisions, such as the grant of merit raises and the starting pay of their positions. Unfortunately, tracking individual decisions are not enough. Although the Act refers specifically to pay decisions, in many cases the inability to reach into the past for data means that differences in existing levels of pay likely will be used to support a prima facie discrimination claim. The Act and other such laws refer directly to equal pay for the same work. Thus, how employees are paid today—not just the pay decisions of yesterday or yesteryear—must be examined and understood fully.

How the Process Works
The pay equity review process begins with comparing the pay of employees who are “similarly situated.” But individuals who are comparable today were not always thus. Given that pay today equals pay at hire plus all subsequent changes in pay, including those that emanate from promotion or transfer, employees that today perform similar work, in the not-so-distant past, may have worked in different jobs, different grades, different units, different locations or even different companies. Knowing this history may lead to better understanding, but this alone will do nothing to protect the Company from sustainable claims.

Differences in knowledge, skill, ability, effort or responsibility provide a legitimate basis for differences in pay among employees doing the same work. However, there are few, if any, direct measures of these factors available, and pay equity studies typically rely on the “usual suspects” to explain pay differences. These include:
  • Responsibility for people.
  • Knowledge.
  • Communication skills.
  • Physical demands.
  • Emotional demands.
  • Mental skills.
  • Initiative.
  • Length of time in job or grade.
  • Part-time status.
  • Physical/geographic location.
  • Company service time.
  • Education.
  • Prior experience (as measured by age or time between leaving school and hire).

Ultimately, Employers will need in-depth information to effectively explain and defend pay differences. Information that can be collected and analyzed through a pay equity study and maintained at the ready include:

  • Work activities: collect information about each job’s actual work activities and responsibilities; this may also include how, why and when the workers perform such activities.
  • Human Behavior: this can include the degree of perception exercised by the employee and other human behaviors such as communicating, judgment and writing and speaking skills.
  • Skilled (or not) use of Machines, Tools, Equipment and Other Work Aids: this could factor in computer use and literacy, knowledge dealt with or applied and services rendered.
  • Job Context: should include such considerations as physical working conditions, work schedule and social factors.
  • Human Requirements: this could include job-related knowledge or skills, education, training and/or work experience, and required personal attributes such as aptitude, physical characteristics, personality and interests.

Two caveats: first, the above factors must be dealt with as objectively as possible and, if capable of measurement, must not be tainted by cognitive bias; second, the law specifically does not permit the perpetuation of past discrimination. Thus, basing a hiring pay offer on previous pay, where such previous pay could be tainted, would only propel discrimination into the future. Employees must be placed into the pay scale in a manner that is rational and disciplined.

Ultimately, the adoption and maintenance of job descriptions is an integral part of a transparent, fair pay system. Having accurate job descriptions makes it much easier to evaluate and grade different jobs – and ensure that employees doing equal work receive equal pay. Job descriptions should follow job evaluation scheme factors. This will make jobs easier to evaluate and help avoid aspects of jobs more commonly performed by women being omitted or undervalued in the evaluation process, compared to those of jobs more commonly carried out by men. To the extent that current job descriptions exist, they should be reviewed as part of the preliminary review.

In addition to job descriptions, the second part of this comprehensive analysis involves the development of Salary Guides for all identified positions. One of the required Affirmative Action Plan reports, the Workforce Analysis, requests that the Company sort the jobs in each Department by wage or salary. Salary Guides are used by many businesses to help managers manage the compensation of new employees and to establish appropriate pay increases for existing employees while maintaining equity among the jobs in the company. Salary Guides provide a structure and logic for fairly compensating employees and managing the Company’s payroll costs.

Mandelbaum Salsburg’s Employment Law Practice can provide assistance and advice and help companies conduct this important survey. Involvement of legal counsel will provide you with necessary expertise and the protection of attorney-client privilege. If engaged, we would be prepared to work with one or more Company executives to review personnel information and compensation data. While it is clear that this process is no easy task; to do nothing (our usual default option) can lead to some very serious consequences. If you wish to learn more or to engage in this process, please contact Gary S. Young at gyoung@lawfirm.ms.

Attorney: Gary Young
Category: Equal Pay Act

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act

January 16, 2019

After a sixteen year battle, New York state legislators passed a bill this week to specifically outlaw gender identity and gender expression discrimination. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA”) adds gender identity and expression as protected classes in employment, housing and public accommodations. Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated he will sign the bill into law.

GENDA will give those working in New York State similar protection to that already provided in New York City by adding these protected categories to New York State’s anti-discrimination laws. Should you have any questions concerning this, or any other labor or employment topic, contact Steven Adler.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Discrimination

Tis the Season to be Careful, Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

December 7, 2018

Company holiday parties are often great for camaraderie and employee morale but are fraught with danger, whether it be harassment, religious discrimination or drinking and driving.

We don’t want to be accused of being the Grinch that stole Christmas. We are all in favor of holiday parties, so long as they are done right. Here are our top ten (10) tips:

  1. Remind employees in advance of the Company's anti-harassment policy;

  2. No mistletoe;

  3. Limit alcohol;

    1. Consider no alcohol or using drink tickets

    2. Designate a member of management to monitor employees

    3. Have rides home available or remind employees to consider Uber/Lyft, etc.

    4. Consider day-time parties

  4. No slow dancing;

  5. No unsupervised speeches or skits;

  6. Avoid religious symbols and religious music;

  7. If during off hours, do not require attendance or there may be exposure to wage and hour claims;

  8. If exchanging gifts, instruct employees as to what is appropriate and no gag-gifts;

  9. When selecting a menu, make sure it is inclusive to accommodate religious needs, i.e. Kosher meals; and

  10. If all else fails, promptly investigate any claims!

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Harassment

The Holiday Season and Accommodating Religious Beliefs

November 27, 2018

As we are now in the middle of the holiday season, it is worth noting a recent, interesting decision concerning an employer’s obligation to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. In Miller v. The Port of Authority, 15-cv-6370 (KM)(MAH), the District Court rejected a worker’s suit that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the “Port Authority”) failed to accommodate his religious beliefs that precluded him from working on the Sabbath.

There are two types of religious discrimination, a disparate treatment claim (where an employee claims he is being treated differently because of his religion) and a claim for a failure to accommodate. In Miller, plaintiff argued the latter, that his request for an accommodation was rejected by his employer. In contrast, the employer argued that it offered various options to Miller, including the option to swap shifts with other employees, or that he could use vacation, personal excused time or compensatory time for religious purposes. The Port Authority also argued that exempting Miller from work on the Sabbath, without first offering that option to more senior employees, would have violated the governing collective bargaining agreement’s (“CBA’s”) seniority provision. The Hon. Kevin McNulty held that the religious accommodation offered by the Port Authority was reasonable and that the blanket exemption proposed by plaintiff would have imposed more than a de minimis hardship. Therefore, the employer was not required to accept it, and granted summary judgment in favor of defendant.

Judge McNulty’s decision is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it notes that “the standard imposed on employers for a religious accommodation is not as demanding as the accommodation of a disability required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” As noted above, the Court held that an accommodation would impose an “undue hardship” if it would impose more than a de minimis burden on the employer. “Such a burden may take the form of economic costs, but may also include non-economic costs, such as damage to employee morale or compromise of a CBA …” Second, the decision confirms that an employer’s accommodation proposal simply must be “reasonable.” It is not required to totally eliminate any conflict and an employer is not required to accommodate the religious practices of an employee in exactly the way the employee would like. Third, while noting that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals hasn’t endorsed the approach, Judge McNulty held that an employer could offer a combination of accommodations, and found that what the Port Authority offered was reasonable.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Discrimination

Equal Pay Act Compliance

November 21, 2018

Without question, the most aggressive and wide-ranging Equal Pay Act in the country was enacted this past year by the New Jersey Legislature. It is wide-ranging because it applies not only to pay disparity based on sex, but also based on an employee’s race, age, religion, disability, or any other classification of employees who are protected from discrimination in employment by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). There are more than a dozen such classifications.

It is the most aggressive Equal Pay Act because it goes far beyond the concept of “equal pay for equal work.” An employer must pay an employee, who is in any one of these protected classifications, equal to any employee who is not so-protected, if the work the two employees perform is “substantially similar,” that is, nearly equivalent or approximately the same work. This also applies to equality in terms of other benefits, such as health insurance.

Compliance with the Act effectively requires that the employer conduct an analysis of its entire workforce, and on an ongoing basis, as new employees are hired and/or changes are made in the workforce.

The Act provides truly draconian penalties, in terms of treble damages and the employer having to pay the employee’s attorneys’ fees.

The Labor and Employment Law Department has been assisting a number of its clients, along with Human Resource consultants we have retained, to perform the detailed workforce audits required to comply with this Act.

Attorney: Dennis Alessi
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Equal Pay Act

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act

November 13, 2018

We hope you enjoyed Veterans Day yesterday but we should honor our military every day throughout the year. In that regard, we want to remind employers of their legal obligations to those in the military, including those in active or reserve military status.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 to protect the civilian employment of active and reserve military personnel called into active and reserve military duty. Its main purpose is to eliminate employment discrimination by employers, regardless of size, because of an employee’s military status. USERRA ensures that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other uniformed services (1) are not disadvantaged in their civil careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civil jobs upon return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against based upon past, present or future military service. It, therefore, provides protection for both active military service and veterans.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) also protects those in the military by making service in the military a protected class. Just last year the NJLAD was amended to broaden the protection for those in the military by prohibiting discrimination in the context of, among other things, housing and loans. It also requires that contractors and subcontractors on state projects guarantee equal employment opportunities to all veterans.

So let’s honor our military throughout the year by treating them right, as required by USERRA and the NJLAD.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment

Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act: A Compliance Nightmare

October 8, 2018

The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (“the Act”) is unique from other employment anti-discrimination laws in New Jersey which creates a compliance nightmare for employers. It is important to understand the four main differences of the Act and the challenges they bring.

First, the Act is not an equal pay for equal work law. It is actually an equal compensation for substantially similar work law. Employees, who are in those categories protected from employment discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”), must receive not only equal pay, but also equal employment benefits, (i. e., insurances, retirement plans, paid time off, severance pay, etc.), when these protected employees perform substantially similar work as employees who are not protected by the NJLAD. This comparison must be made based on a composite considerations of skill, effort and responsibility.

“Similar work” is not the same as equal work. Similar work means almost or nearly the same work. And “substantially” means in most respects but not in all. Consequently, if an employee, who is in a category protected by the NJLAD, performs almost the same work in most respects as an employee who is not in a protected category, then this protected employee must receive equal salary and all other benefits of employment.

Deciding what equal work is appears to be an easy task by comparison to this type of analysis which an employer must perform to ensure compliance with the Act.

Secondly, the Act is not an anti-discrimination law for women in the workforce. It was initially proposed as such but, as ultimately enacted, it applies to all approximately 14 categories of employees who are protected against employment discrimination by the NJLAD. (Just some of these protected categories include, in addition to women, race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, family and marital status, veterans status, and sexual orientation, among others.) This means that an employer with any degree of diversity in its employees must analyze its entire workforce to ensure compliance with the Act.

Third, the Act does not appear to require that the employer have any intent to discriminate. Apparently, for an employer to have violated the Act, an employee need only prove that he/she is a member of a protected category under the NJLAD; that the employee performed substantially similar work as another employee who is not in a protected category; and that this protected employee received less compensation, in salary and/or in any benefits of employment, as the employee not in a protected category.

Admittedly, an employer can raise three defenses: that the differential in compensation is due to a seniority system, a merit system, or some legitimate, bona fide and job-related difference(s) in characteristics between the employees in the protected categories and those that are not so protected. For example, inequality in compensation does not violate the Act if it is directly and wholly the result of job-related differences in training, education, experience or the quantity and quality of production. Obviously in many situations these differences will be subjective; difficult to measure; will require extensive supporting documentation developed over time; and the burden will be on the employer to prove them.

Fourth, the most distinctive and troublesome aspect of the Act is what actions employers must take to comply with it. For most employment discrimination laws an employer need only adopt a personal policy to implement the law, and then follow the policy wherever situations arise to which the law applies. But with the Act, an employer needs to implement and maintain, on an on-going basis, a comprehensive compliance plan.

The plan necessitates a comparative evaluation of the education, training, knowledge/skills and experience of each employee and their individual productivity; an analysis of the duties, tasks and responsibilities of each position in the workforce; then a determination of which employees in which positions are performing substantially similar work. Once these substantially similar employees are identified, then the final step, undoubtedly the easiest, is to determine if the salary and other benefits of these employees are equal as between protected and non-protected categories of employees under the NJLAD. (The employer cannot reduce the compensation of the higher paid substantially similar employee; but must raise the compensation of the lower paid employee).

Such an in-depth analysis of an entire workforce is a monumental task for an employer, even with a fully staffed HR Department. We appreciate the even greater difficulty for an employer with far less HR resources. Nevertheless, the need for compliance is of paramount importance because of the severe penalties for a failure to do so. These include trebel damages (i.e., the employee receives three dollars for each dollar of equal compensation which the employee did not receive in violation of the Act), and the employer having to pay the employees attorneys’ fees.

In addition, the Act provides a six (6) year statute of limitations, and allows an employee to potentially claim damages for even a longer period of time in the past under the “discovery rule.” This rule means that the six (6) year statute of limitations only begins to run after the employee discovers that he/she was not paid equally. Finally, a separate violation of the statute occurs each time the employer issues a paycheck which is less than equal pay for substantially similar work.

The “bottom line” is that, while implementing a compliance plan for the Act may be a nightmare, failure to comply could be a real life horror show for any employer.

Attorney: Dennis Alessi
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Discrimination

Secretly Recording Work Chats: Not Cut and Dried

August 31, 2018

Billy Joel wrote in his song “Shades of Grey” that what was “perfectly clear with the vision of youth” is not quite so clear anymore. “Black and white is how it should be, but shades of grey are the colors I see.” This holds true with regard to secretly tape recording at work, too.

In the past, employment lawyers told employers they should strictly prohibit employees from secretly recording anything at work. There were a number of reasons for this advice. First and foremost, audio or video recording could result in the misappropriation of an employer’s trade secrets. In fact, for trade secret protection, a company must show that it took reasonable steps to protect that information and, therefore, a written policy is important. Second, fear among supervisors that they are being surreptitiously recorded could lead them to mistrust certain employees, which is not conducive to a healthy work environment.

But times have changed somewhat. From the #MeToo movement, we now know that harassment and even sexual assault have been rampant in certain industries. If employees are allowed to secretly record at work, would the likelihood of harassment be reduced? It could, but probably not. However, it would make it easier to prosecute such a claim against the harasser — and also the employer. This is why the harassment claims of Gretchen Carlson against Roger Ailes supposedly settled so quickly. It also is why we were able to recover millions of dollars to resolve whistleblower claims of a senior executive against the CEO of a major brokerage firm. This type of proof is powerful, because harassment cases often are “he said-she said” situations with no other witnesses. Juries also often expect to hear this type of evidence because they know how easy it is to obtain.

Recordings also allow employees to fend off false accusations by others at work. Recent examples include Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former White House communications director, who allegedly has audio and video recordings of President Donald Trump, and attorney Michael Cohen, who secretly tape recorded discussions he had with his client, Trump. On rare occasions, secretly taping at work can also be harmful to an employee’s case. Years ago, we defended a Berkshire Hathaway company in a gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit involving an employee who had about 10 hours of recordings. The people recorded said nothing inappropriate and we were able to make good use of the plaintiff’s numerous admissions on those tapes to tear apart her case.

The National Labor Relations Board also has held that blanketly denying employees, whether unionized or not, the right to secretly tape record could violate their right to engage in concerted activity regarding their conditions of employment. The NLRB held that photographs and recordings, as well as the posting them on social media, are protected by Sec. 7 of the National Labor Relations Act if “employees are acting in concert for their mutual aid and protection and no overriding employer interest is present.” For example, employees should be allowed to document unsafe equipment or hazardous working conditions. As a result, employers should have their policies reviewed to make sure they explain the business justification for the restrictions on recordings and to confirm that they don’t ban all recordings.

Regardless of a company’s prohibition against recordings, recording no doubt still will take place, considering how easy it is to do these days from anyone’s phone. For this reason, in all harassment and discrimination litigation, it is important to inquire about the existence of this evidence. Keep in mind that improperly obtained evidence, such as a secret recording in a state that requires both parties’ consent, or a recording in violation of an employer’s policy, still can be admissible in a civil case. Unlike criminal cases, where an improper search and seizure by the government may lead to the discovery of other evidence that will be suppressed at trial based upon the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, that doctrine is inapplicable in civil cases in New Jersey. In other words, secretly recorded conversations are admissible at a civil trial even if improperly obtained.

Weighing all the pros and cons, it is still best for employers generally to preclude covert tape recording, but the policy should be tailored to the specific client especially where employers have valuable trade secrets. Employers should combat harassment using other tools, including anti-harassment training and strong policies.

In the past, black and white were easy to see, but now drafters of employee handbooks and policies need to also see various shades of grey.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment

Class Action Liability Risks for Violations of ADA and New York Human Rights Laws

July 6, 2018

In January 2018, the federal government conformed its website accessibility requirements to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an international set of standards intended to make web content more accessible to users with perceptual or physical challenges. The WCAG addresses low vision, color perception, cognition, manual dexterity, screen reading technology, and other issues related to user abilities. The Department of Justice (DOJ) promised to do the same in the private sector by mid-year, but that initiative has been deferred.

As a consequence, there has been a surge of class action lawsuits alleging Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations based on access to website information that the Courts have been addressing individually. The first federal court decision that a website violated the ADA was in early 2017. The decision was followed by 800 federal lawsuits that year alone, alleging ADA as well as state law civil rights violations. (New York led the way with more cases than any other state). Until a clear standard is set by Congress or the appropriate regulatory agency, web site ADA lawsuits will continue to increase.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability “in places of public accommodations”.  As such, any business is potentially an ADA class action target. Class actions require only one named plaintiff (who brings suit individually and on behalf of those “similarly situated”), and one defendant (potentially, you). Whether you are a large or small business, brick and mortar, or web-based only, defending an ADA/Human Rights Law class action promises to be costly in two ways. Not only is there the risk of a potential damage award, the ADA is a “fee shifting statute.” As a result, a defendant must pay its own legal costs to defend the action and may be required to pay those of a successful plaintiff as well. These costs alone may run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now, with the website accessibility lawsuit floodgate open, it imperative for businesses to ensure ADA compliance. The easiest and most economical approach is a website compliance audit and action-item checklist conducted by legal counsel experienced in ADA website accessibility issues. For instance, does your website include:

  • Visual Alternatives (pre-recorded text for audio, descriptors for images)
  • Sound alternatives (text descriptors for audio)
  • Color Contrasting (that meet the minimum ratios)
  • Key board navigation (i.e. function and/or tab key, not mouse-only options)
  • Adjustable font size (without content or acuity loss)
  • Semantic HTML (descriptive headings that identify the content that follows)

Many of these features are easy (and inexpensive) to implement once you (and your website consultant) know what is required. Please contact the firm’s cybersecurity practice attorneys Steven Teppler or Lauren Topelsohn to discuss our fixed fee consultation details.

Attorneys: Steven Teppler and Lauren Topelsohn
Related Practice: Labor and Employment

It Is Time To Take Your Company's Temperature Concerning HR Compliance

May 29, 2018

How healthy is your Company? Does it comply with all of its obligations under ever-expanding employment laws? Considering all of the recent developments in New Jersey and New York employment law, now is an appropriate time to take your Company’s temperature.

If your Company has an employee manual, now is the time to update it especially considering that New Jersey and New York recently passed legislation dealing with paid sick leave which may impact your current sick leave policy.

As a result of the #Metoo movement, and as reported recently in this blog, there have been significant changes concerning having employees sign settlement agreements in sexual harassment cases or separation agreements containing non-disclosure/confidentiality provisions waiving these claims. Both New York and federal law have changed in this regard. It is, therefore, important to review any form releases your Company uses when terminating employees.

As also reported previously in this blog, the law also has changed concerning equal pay. In New Jersey, it will not only apply to women who are paid less than men but also all other protected classes in the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. It is, therefore, important to take your Company’s temperature with regard to employee pay.

Lastly, based upon an executive order recently signed by Governor Murphy organizing a task force to review the issue of misclassification of workers, we expect a crackdown on employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors. Now is the time to review those relationships as well.

In summary, having experienced legal counsel help in taking your Company’s temperature now will enable your Company to avoid costly litigation not too far down the road.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Employee Benefits

Notorious R.B.G. and Gender Equality

May 26, 2018

Today we are not blogging about a recent development in employment law.  Instead, we wish to call attention to an entertaining source to help non-lawyers understand how we arrived at the current state of the law concerning gender equality.

A must-see movie, regardless of your political persuasion, is the documentary R.B.G. which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.  The movie starts off with a bang when the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes abolitionist and women’s suffragist Sarah Grimke’, stating that she asks “…no favor for my sex.  All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

Ginsburg, the diminutive dynamo, was one of only nine women in a class of 500 at Harvard Law School and the first woman on the Harvard Law Review.  She accomplished this feat while caring for her ill husband and young child.  Ginsburg did for gender discrimination in the 1970’s what Thurgood Marshall accomplished for blacks during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. 

The movie chronicles Ginsburg’s quest for equal protection for women, including the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court (five of which she won), including United States v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court held that qualified women could not be denied admission to the all male Virginia Military Institute.  Ginsburg also trumpeted male gender equality by successfully arguing in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636 (1975) that widowed fathers were entitled to the same benefits under the Social Security Act as widowed mothers.  More recently, Ginsburg has been a dissenter to many decisions rendered by our conservative Supreme Court, including in the Lilly Ledbetter equal pay case.  While the Supreme Court denied Ledbetter relief, Ginsburg’s dissent resulted in Congress creating new law effectively overruling the Supreme Court’s majority decision and making it easier for women to sue for previously unknown disparate pay.

The #MeToo movement has resulted in the media refocusing on gender discrimination and harassment. The R.B.G. documentary does an excellent job of explaining how we arrived at the current state of the law and Ginsburg’s role in shaping gender equality.  

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment

NYC's Earned Safe and Sick Time Act Takes Effect

May 16, 2018

On May 5, 2018, NYC’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (the “ESSTA”) went into effect. It amends NYC’s Earned Sick Time Act by (a) permitting an employee to use accrued “sick leave” for “safe leave” and (b) expanding the definition of “family member.”  Employers are required to provide notice to employees by June 4, 2018. 

Under the ESSTA, employees have the right to use leave for the medical care of themselves or a family member, as well as the right to seek assistance or take other safety measures if the employee or a family member is a victim or has been threatened with domestic violence, “unwanted sexual contact”, stalking or human trafficking.

“Safe leave” includes absences to:

  • Obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center or other similar program
  • Participate in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocate for safety reasons or take other actions to increase the safety of the employee or family member
  • Meet with a civil attorney or other social service provider to obtain information and advice on, and prepare for or participate in, any criminal or civil proceeding, including but not limited to matters related to a family offense matter, sexual offense, stalking, human trafficking, custody, visitation, matrimonial issues, orders of protection, immigration, housing, discrimination in employment, housing or consumer credit
  • File a complaint or domestic incident report with law enforcement
  • Meet with a district attorney’s office
  • Enroll children in a new school; or
  • Take other actions necessary to maintain, improve, or restore the physical, psychological, or economic health or safety of the employee or family member or to protect those who associate or work with the employee. 

“Family member” is now defined as:

  • A spouse, domestic partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or the child or parent of the employee's spouse or domestic partner
  • Any other individual related by blood to the employee
  • Any other individual whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship

Employers with five (5) or more employees must provide up to 40 hours of paid sick/safe leave; all other employers must provide up to 40 hours of unpaid sick/safe leave.

For more information, see: http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dca/downloads/pdf/about/Paid-Safe-and-Sick-Leave-Law-Rules.pdf

 

Attorney: Lauren Topelsohn
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Paid Sick Leave

Governor Phil Murphy's first act as governor was to sign an executive order promoting equal pay for equal work by prohibiting state agencies from asking job applicants about their salary history

April 23, 2018

The Governor is now about to sign legislation amending the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) that will ban employers from paying women and other employees in a protected category less for “substantially similar work.” Rather than a two year statute of limitations, like other types of discrimination, this amendment provides for a six year statute of limitations for these pay disparity claims.  It also calls for treble (triple) damages.  The law also provides that employers cannot preclude employees from discussing their compensation.  Finally, it precludes employers from requiring employees to agree to a shorter statute of limitations for any claims under the NJLAD or to waive any other protections provided by that law.  A copy of the Bill is attached here.

Attorney: Steven Adler
Related Practice: Labor and Employment
Category: Wage & Hour