Employment Discrimination in New Jersey

Avoid employment discrimination against protected classes in New Jersey.

New Jersey employers must follow federal and state workplace discrimination laws. While there is some overlap between the two, New Jersey's law applies to all employers and protects additional characteristics, such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

What Are the Protected Classes in New Jersey?

In all 50 states, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate based on:

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • religion
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • disability
  • age (18 to 70)
  • citizenship status, and
  • genetic information.

In addition, New Jersey state law also prohibits discrimination based on:

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • religion
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • disability: past or present physical or mental
  • age (18 to 70)
  • genetic information
  • marital status (includes civil union or domestic partnership status)
  • sexual orientation (includes affectional orientation and perceived sexual orientation)
  • AIDS/HIV
  • atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait
  • military service
  • accompanied by service or guide dog
  • gender identity, and
  • unemployed status.

Which New Jersey Employers Must Comply With Antidiscrimination Laws?

Under federal law, companies with 15 or more employees are covered by Title VII, the primary law prohibiting employment discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on genetic information. Companies with 20 or more employees are subject to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the federal law that prohibits discrimination against employees 40 years or older. Companies with four or more employees must comply with the employment discrimination provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of citizenship status. And all companies of any size must pay men and women equally for doing equal work, by virtue of the Equal Pay Act.

In New Jersey, companies with one or more employees are subject to the state's antidiscrimination law.

What Government Agency Regulates Workplace Discrimination in New Jersey?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that regulates workplace discrimination. You can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by calling 800-669-4000 or check out its website at www.eeoc.gov. The website will help you locate an EEOC field office in New Jersey.

The Division on Civil Rights enforces state antidiscrimination law in New Jersey. You can contact the Division on Civil Rights at 973-648-2700 or go to its website.

What Actions May Employees Take to Enforce Their Rights?

Before filing a lawsuit based on an employer’s violation of Title VII, an employee must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Employees may, but are not required to, file a charge of discrimination with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) for violations of state law. The deadline to file a charge with the EEOC is either 180 or 300 days, depending on the claims involved. The deadline for filing with the DCR is 180 days.

An employee who wants to file a Title VII lawsuit right away may ask the EEOC to issue a right-to-sue letter: a document stating that the employee has met the obligation to file an administrative charge with the agency. Employees have only 90 days to file a lawsuit once this letter is issued. And, a Title VII lawsuit must typically be filed within two years of the violation. The deadline for filing a lawsuit for violations of state law is also two years from the discriminatory act.

What Damages Are Available in a Discrimination Case?

Employees can seek monetary compensation (called "damages") from their employers for violations of antidiscrimination laws. While fired employees can also ask to be reinstated to their jobs, courts are often reluctant to do this. Once a lawsuit has been filed, the working relationship between the employer and employee is often beyond repair.

The exact amount and types of damages an employee can request depends on the type of claim. However, the following are common damages employees can receive:

  • back pay: wages and benefits the employee lost because of the discrimination (for example, if the employee was fired or demoted)
  • out-of-pocket expenses: money the employee had to pay because of the discrimination, such as the costs of therapy or looking for a new job
  • front pay: wages the employee will continue to lose in the future (for example, if the employee still hasn't been able to find a job)
  • emotional distress damages: money to compensate the employee for the mental pain and suffering caused by the illegal discrimination
  • punitive damages: a monetary award intended to punish the employer for especially egregious violations of the law, and
  • attorneys’ fees and court costs.

For violations of Title VII, there is a cap on how much employees can be awarded in damages for emotional distress, out-of-pocket expenses, and punitive damages. The combined cap for these damages is between $50,000 and $300,000, depending on the size of the employer. There is no such cap on damages for back pay, front pay, and attorneys' fees and costs. New Jersey does not cap the total amount of damages that employees can receive for pain and suffering and punitive damages.

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