Governor Christie Vetoes Amendment to New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

Posted by on Jun 23, 2016 in Gender Discrimination, Racial Discrimination, Uncategorized

On May 2, 2016, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed Senate Bill 992 (“S. 992”), which was intended to amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJ LAD”) to make wage disparities among similarly situated employees expressly unlawful. While S. 992 is aimed at reducing gendered or race-based pay disparity, Governor Christie stated that the bill would make New Jersey “very business unfriendly,” and criticized several aspects, including:

  1. Restarting the statute of limitations each time an employee receives unequal pay, and allowing for back pay for the entire period of continuous violation, which is currently capped at two years and is identical to the federal Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009;
  2. Prohibiting employers from requiring employees to waive or voluntarily limit their equal pay protections;
  3. Allowing treble damages upon any employer found to be in violation;
  4. Protecting employees from retaliation if they disclose their salary to a co-worker; and
  5. Shifting responsibility and burden of proof to the employer to justify pay differences, which would be permitted only based on seniority, merit, or objective factors such as training, experience, education, and productivity.

Additionally, S. 992 is substantially similar to the California Fair Pay Act, which was adopted last year. Governor Christie has made several recommendations, with which he would revoke his veto and sign a revised version of S. 992. Some of these recommendations include eliminating fact-based evaluation in alleged discrimination cases as well as treble damages. Governor Christie also would like the revised version to limit back pay to two years, as opposed to the proposed unlimited amount. While S. 992 passed the State Senate by a vote of 28 to 4, and the General Assembly by a vote of 54 to 14 to 6, it is unclear whether the legislature will attempt to override Governor Christie’s veto, which requires a two-thirds margin.

Employers should be mindful of the status of this bill, along with others like it, as there will be far-reaching consequences should one be successful in being signed into law. Hill Wallack employment law attorneys are available to help navigate issues such as these and how they may affect clients in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

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EMPLOYEE “SELF-HELP” REMOVAL OF CONFIDENTIAL DOCUMENTS TO SUPPORT A DISCRIMINATION CLAIM

Posted by on Aug 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

By: Susan L. Swatski, Esq. (sswatski@hillwallack.com) and Bryan A. Coe, Summer Associate (bcoe@hillwallack.com)

Employees seeking to support their employment discrimination litigation by removing confidential documents from their place of work should think again. That conduct, commonly referred to as “self-help” was recently dealt a blow in State v. Saavedra. Previously, in Quinlan v. Curtiss–Wright Corp., the New Jersey Supreme Court established a “totality of the circumstances” test for balancing an employee’s right to access and use documents during workplace discrimination litigation against an employer’s interest in protecting confidential documents. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently revisited the issue in State v. Saavedra, in which the court addressed whether an employee could face criminal charges for engaging in self-help to obtain confidential documents during civil litigation.

In State v. Saavedra, the employee removed documents from her employer, the North Bergen Board of Education, to assist in her employment discrimination claim. In response to a request from the employer to produce all confidential documents in her possession, the employee produced the documents which she removed from her employer. Upon learning of this, the employer notified the County Prosecutor, and the employee was indicted for third-degree theft by unlawful taking of public documents.

The employee argued that taking documents was allowed under the Quinlan “totality of the circumstances” test. In deciding the Saavedra case, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, found that “nothing in Quinlan states or implies that the anti-discrimination policy of the Law Against Discrimination immunizes from prosecution an employee who takes his or her employer’s documents in use in a discrimination case.” However, the employee would be able to assert, during her criminal prosecution, that her intent was to use the documents in her discrimination litigation. The Supreme Court then articulated the following five factors for a jury to use when determining if an employee has a “claim of right” to use employer documents: (1) the contents of the documents; (2) the presence or absence of a confidentiality policy; (3) the privacy interest at stake; (4) the extent to which the employee disclosed the documents; and, (5) the employee’s reason for taking the documents instead of seeking them through discovery. This “claim of right” providesa defense to criminal charges, and the jury would weigh these factors to determine whether it was appropriate to remove the documents.

In the wake of the Saavedra decision, employers should make sure employees who handle confidential information sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement. Having this signed agreement will weigh in an employer’s favor if an employee attempts to establish a “claim of right” during a civil proceeding. Additionally, the employee handbook should list how confidential documents should be handled and what the consequences of mishandling those documents are, including potential criminal prosecution.

If you are an employer, who regularly deals with confidential information, you should seek legal advice to determine whether your employment policies accurately protect you from an employee taking those documents from your possession to use in employment litigation.

 

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Medical Marijuana Use or Employer Rights – Which Comes First?

Posted by on Sep 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

By: Susan L. Swatski, Esq. (sswatski@hillwallack.com)

On September 30, 2014, the Colorado Supreme Court is set to hear argument in Coats v. Dish Network, L.L.C., about an employee’s right to use medical marijuana during non-work hours, and the employer’s right to test for the drug and discipline users. At issue is the right of an employee to use medically prescribed marijuana to help with painful spasms when he/she is not at work. Dish Network contends that it should not have to retain employees whose marijuana use violates federal law and whose performance as a result of their marijuana use could be an issue.

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California Court Finds Teacher Employment Statutes Unconstitutional

Posted by on Jul 11, 2014 in School Law, Uncategorized

By Felicity S. Hanks, Esq. (fhanks@hillwallack.com)

In a decision that has sparked interest from the beaches of Malibu to the beaches of Sea Isle, a Los Angeles County, California Superior Court ruled that three teacher employment laws – California’s Permanent Employment, Dismissal, and LIFO (last in, first out) Statutes – were unconstitutional.*[1]

Decided on June 10, 2014, the case, Vergara v. California, was brought by nine California public school students claiming that the statutes resulted in “grossly ineffective teachers” attaining tenured positions which disproportionately affected low income and minority students. The Court agreed, ruling that the three statutes violated the children’s fundamental right to equality of education.

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Fair Labor Standards Act Violations cost Chickie’s and Pete’s $6.8 Million

Posted by on Mar 6, 2014 in FLSA, Uncategorized

By Felicity S. Hanks, Esq. (fhanks@hillwallack.com)

Our region’s beloved sport’s bar and Crabfries architect, Chickie’s and Pete’s has signed a consent judgment agreeing to pay $6,842,412  for back wages and damages for violations of federal minimum wage, overtime and record keeping requirements, and for improperly taking tips from its servers.  The United Stated Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced the result of its year-long investigation into the company in a News Release dated February 20, 2014.  The News Release is available on the DOL website at:  http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/whd/WHD20140044.htm.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) sets out the federal minimum wage requirement of $7.25 per hour.  If an employee total earning with tips and its base wage do not equal the minimum wage requirement, the employer is required to make up the difference during that pay period. However, because servers typically earn tips, the restaurant owner can claim a “tip credit” and pay the employee a base wage of only $2.13.  The presumption is that the employee will receive tips that cover the difference up to the full minimum wage.

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College Football Players Attempt to Unionize

Posted by on Mar 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

By Felicity S. Hanks, Esq. (fhanks@hillwallack.com)

To continue with sports/labor theme, I want to discuss a unique labor law issue that arose just this January:  Can student athlete unionize?

Football players at Northwestern University, represented by advocacy group the National College Players Association, filed a union election petition with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”).[1] The NLRB has statutory jurisdiction private sector employers and alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), which, among other things, guarantees employees the right to form a labor organization and/or join together to improve terms and conditions of employment without a union. As a private university with activities in interstate commerce, Northwestern University is subject to the NLRA.

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