Tagged: Harassment

Governor Murphy Signs Bill Making Nondisclosure Provisions Unenforceable and Against Public Policy

Governor Murphy Signs Bill Making Nondisclosure Provisions Unenforceable and Against Public Policy

On Monday, March 18, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill No. 121, which makes nondisclosure provisions in employment contracts or settlement agreements that are intended to conceal the details of claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment unenforceable and against public policy in New Jersey. Section 1 of the new law warns that a “provision in any employment contract that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” is against public policy and unenforceable.” The law does not define “employment contract” and leaves open to interpretation whether it applies to all agreements between employer and employee, whether an employment agreement, a separation agreement, or a settlement agreement. The prohibition on waiving any procedural right would make arbitration agreements, which by their nature waive the right to a jury trial, also invalid and unenforceable in contravention of the Federal Arbitration Act and recent United States Supreme Court precedent. An immediate challenge to this aspect of the law is likely since it casts doubt on all arbitration agreements between an employer and employee that seek to include claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Section 1 also prohibits a prospective waiver of any right...

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

In Roman v. Bergen Logistics, LLC, the Appellate Division recently held that a plaintiff was required to arbitrate her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation with her former employer. The court also held, however, that the arbitration agreement’s contractual provision that barred the employee’s access to punitive damages was unenforceable. Background Plaintiff Milagros Roman was hired by the defendant, Bergen Logistics, as a human resources generalist. She signed an arbitration agreement at the outset of her employment. In addition to requiring Roman to arbitrate any and all claims related to her employment, the arbitration agreement compelled her to waive any claim for punitive damages. After her termination, Roman filed a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that her former supervisor sexually harassed her, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The defendants moved to dismiss Roman’s complaint and compel her to arbitrate her claims. The Law Division found that Roman knowingly signed the arbitration agreement and that the agreement contained an unambiguous waiver of claims for punitive damages. Accordingly, that court held that Roman was required to submit her claims to arbitration and could not seek punitive...

Third Circuit Overturns Summary Judgment Based on the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Third Circuit Overturns Summary Judgment Based on the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Employers who are sued for sexual harassment committed by a supervisor may be able to avoid liability, even if harassment had, in fact, occurred, by asserting the so-called Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense, named after the two United States Supreme Court cases that first recognized the defense. An employer may assert the Faragher-Ellerth defense to supervisor harassment when no tangible employment action has been taken against the harassed employee and the employer is able to demonstrate (a) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior and (b) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Minarsky v. Susquehanna County, addressed the requirements of the Faragher-Ellerth defense in the context of the assertion of a female employee that she acted reasonably in not taking advantage of the procedures made available by her employer to prevent or correct the harassment against her by her supervisor. In so doing, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the employer based on the Faragher-Ellerth defense and held on the facts of the case a jury should...

New York City and New York State Pass Comprehensive Anti-Harassment Legislation

New York City and New York State Pass Comprehensive Anti-Harassment Legislation

The New York City Council recently passed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act (“NYC Act”), a series of bills that address sexual harassment prevention in the workplace. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the legislation into law in the near future. The passage of the NYC Act coincides with the signing of the 2018-2019 New York State Budget (“the Bill”), which includes comprehensive and significant changes to State anti-harassment laws described as “necessary to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.” STOP SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN NYC ACT Mandatory Anti-Harassment Training The NYC Act would require employers (with 15 or more employees including interns) to conduct annual anti-sexual harassment training beginning on April 1, 2019 for all employees, including supervisors and managers. The training is required for all employees who work more than 80 hours in a calendar year and for new employees within 90 days of hire. The training must cover a range of topics, including a statement that harassment is a form of discrimination under state and federal law; a description of sexual harassment (including examples of what constitutes harassment); internal complaint procedures for an employee to make a harassment complaint; information about the complaint process under...

New Jersey Senate Labor Committee Amends Bill Prohibiting Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Employment and Settlement Agreements

New Jersey Senate Labor Committee Amends Bill Prohibiting Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Employment and Settlement Agreements

In response to the recent spotlight on sexual abuse and harassment claims in the workplace and the #MeToo movement, the federal government and numerous states, including New Jersey, have focused attention on the use of nondisclosure provisions in settlement agreements involving claims of sexual harassment and assault. As we previously reported, the Tax Cuts and Job Bills Act was passed in December 2017 and includes a provision that bars any settlement or payment related to claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse from being deducted as a business expense if the payments are subject to a nondisclosure agreement. While the federal tax bill aims to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements, the proposed New Jersey legislation initially provided an outright ban on such agreements. At the time of its first introduction during the prior legislative session in December 2017, Senator Loretta Weinberg’s proposed bill prohibited New Jersey employers from including “a provision in any employment contract or agreement which has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.” The bill is unique because it is not limited to sexual harassment or abuse claims, but rather would apply to any type of discrimination,...

Tax Bill Effects the Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Settlements of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Abuse Claims

Tax Bill Effects the Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Settlements of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Abuse Claims

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“the Act”), signed into law today, has received considerable media coverage, a provision included in the Act that affects the ability of employers to deduct settlement payments and attorney’s fees for claims involving sexual assault or sexual harassment has received little attention. Nonetheless, this provision will have a significant impact on how employers resolve claims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Specifically, the Act provides that any settlement or payment related to claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse may not be deducted as a business expense if the payments are subject to a nondisclosure agreement. The Act also provides that any attorney’s fees incurred related to such a settlement with a nondisclosure agreement may not be deducted. The new law applies to “any settlement or payment related claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse” whether or not a lawsuit has actually been filed. Importantly, these provisions are effective immediately, and thus all payments made after the effective date of the Act in connection with the settlement of a sexual harassment or a sexual assault claim are subject to these new provisions. Read literally, the new law precludes employers from deducting the amounts...

Legal Issues to Consider as Intern Season Approaches 0

Legal Issues to Consider as Intern Season Approaches

With summer around the corner, it is a good time for a refresher on legal implications when hiring interns. Specifically, when must interns be paid and what other legal protections do interns have? Wage and Hour Issues – As has been widely publicized in recent years, a number of companies who utilize unpaid interns have found themselves the object of lawsuits. It is thus important for companies to make an informed decision on the compensation issue before the hiring process begins.

NLRB Ruling is Problematic for Employer Workplace Investigation Policies 0

NLRB Ruling is Problematic for Employer Workplace Investigation Policies

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) decided that an employer’s workplace investigations policy, which recommends employees keep an internal investigation confidential, violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) because it interfered with employees’ rights to communicate regarding matters affecting terms and conditions of employment. The ruling creates a quandary for employers to maintain effective workplace investigation policies and practices including confidentiality statements in anti-harassment policies.

New Jersey Appellate Division Decision Stresses Importance of Meaningful Anti-Harassment Policy and Training 0

New Jersey Appellate Division Decision Stresses Importance of Meaningful Anti-Harassment Policy and Training

An effective anti-harassment policy has long been recognized as a key component to an employer’s avoidance of liability for allegations of sexual, racial, or other harassment under New Jersey law. The New Jersey Appellate Division in Dunkley v. S. Coraluzzo Petroleum Transporters recently reinforced this fact, and the decision provides a helpful reminder to employers that adopting clear anti-harassment policies, providing regular training to its workforce, and immediately addressing allegations of harassment/discrimination once presented, are important factors that may help them avoid liability for the conduct of employees who violate such policies.

EEOC Issues Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination 0

EEOC Issues Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination

On July 14, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) — the agency responsible for the enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws — issued Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues (“the Guidance”). The Guidance primarily discusses the requirements of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but also addresses additional federal laws that touch upon pregnancy and related conditions, including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).