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Employment Law Notebook

New Jersey Supreme Court Decision Constrains Employer’s Effort to Slash the Number of Potential Discrimination Claims

Yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected an employer’s attempt to control the number of potential discrimination lawsuits by contractually requiring employees to bring such claims within six months.  Referencing the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s (“NJLAD”) critical role in eradicating discrimination in the workplace, the Court in its new decision, Sergio Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Company, Inc. (A-27-14) (074603), held that Raymour & Flanigan frustrated the purpose of the NJLAD when it required its employees to contractually agree on a job application to bring all claims and lawsuits against it within six months.  In 1993, the New Jersey Supreme Court previously ruled that employees have two years to pursue discrimination claims under the NJLAD in court even though the NJLAD itself does not specify a time period (statute of limitations) for bringing such claims

In its landmark ruling yesterday, the Court noted that the employer’s six month limitation period effectively eliminated claims because individuals would have very little time to consult with counsel.  The Court commented further that the two-year time period is necessary for both sides to investigate potential discrimination claims, for employers to take action to address discrimination claims, and to prevent the filing of frivolous claims. 

An interesting factual issue raised but not addressed in the Raymours Furniture Company decision is an employer’s ability to force an employee to give up the right to have a jury decide their discrimination case and require them to instead pursue that claim before a judge  Although the NJLAD itself expressly provides a jury trial when such claims are commenced in court, Raymour & Flanigan’s job application also required employees to waive the right to a jury trial but did not require them to proceed with such claims in arbitration.  The judge versus jury issue was simply not addressed by the Court.  However, the Court did reaffirm its prior rulings that employers may agree by contract to require employees to proceed with NJLAD claims in arbitration as long as the employer is not limiting an employee’s full rights under the NJLAD.

Lisa I. Fried-Grodin is a partner with Meyers Fried-Grodin LLP, an employment law firm in Parsippany, NJ.