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Changing Time(s) for Employment Litigation?

Posted by Frank Steinberg | Jan 05, 2015 | 0 Comments

The New Jersey Supreme Court will review the decision of the Appellate Division in Rodriguez_v._Raymours_Furniture. Why should you care?  Because there is a lot at stake — for both employers and employees — in how this case is finally decided.

In a nutshell, this is the issue.  Under the NJ Law Against Discrimination, the statute of limitations (the legally mandated time for an employee to sue her employer for discrimination) is 2 years.  In the Rodriguez case the plaintiff applied for a position as a furniture delivery driver.  Rodriguez signed an employment application in which he agreed as a condition of employment if his application were accepted, that his time to sue Raymours for discrimination would be reduced from 2 years to just 6 months.

As you no doubt have guessed, Rodriguez was fired and filed a lawsuit accusing Raymours of discrimination, but not until 9 months after he was terminated.  In due course Raymours moved for summary judgment saying that the complaint was barred by the statute of limitations.  The trial court agreed and dismissed the case, and the Appellate Division affirmed over a dissent.  Here is the issue before the court:

“Could the employer enforce a contractual provision in an employment application, by which the employee waived the two-year statute of limitations applicable to claims against the employer and shortened the period for such claims to six months?”

This presents some interesting possibilities.  Let's say that Raymours keeps its 6 month period.  A (fictitious) competitor, Furniture Company A, decides to impose by contract a 1 year limitations period on its delivery drivers, while another competitor, Furniture Company B, does not implement a special period and so allows the traditional 2 year period.  Now you have three companies in the same business, three employees in the same position, and three different times for the employees to sue for discrimination if their rights are violated.  If not a recipe for judicial disaster, there is plainly the potential for much confusion.  On a more fundamental level, is it desirable to allow this kind of inconsistency to govern our citizens' civil rights? Those, presumably, are questions that the Supreme Court will address.

What to do while the Supreme Court deliberates?  If you are applying for a job, you have to decide whether you can live with a reduced time to sue if you are hired.  If a business, you need to think about whether to impose a reduced period to sue now, or wait to see how the court rules.  

Either way, you might write to your state representatives.  They could make this very easy by passing a law saying that such time reductions are, or are not, acceptable.  Truth be told, that is the way this should be done.  Will it?  I'm not holding my breath, but I like surprises.

About the Author

Frank Steinberg

Frank is the founder and principal of Steinberg Law, LLC. A Jersey boy born and bred, he focuses on employment litigation and counseling, business litigation,  and aviation law. Following law school and a clerkship in the federal district court Frank spent his early career with large litigation ...

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