The big dog of anti-discrimination law in New Jersey is the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, commonly known as the NJLAD or just LAD. The LAD wraps up in one often-expanding package most of the anti-discrimination law of the Garden State. Discrimination is prohibited on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, and many other "protected classifications." The full list can be found on the website of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, which is the agency that administers the law. The LAD provides protections against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit and contracting. You will find here the full text of the LAD if you care to read it.
The LAD provides not just protection against discrimination as such, but also an employer's retaliation against an employee for standing on rights ensured by the LAD. This is a critical part of the law and often becomes the battleground on which discrimination cases are fought in court.
In many ways the LAD tracks the federal anti-discrimination laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and so forth. Most states rely upon the federal laws to ensure that their citizens are treated in a non-discriminatory way. So you may wonder why New Jersey has its own complex of laws that provide similar protections. Why the duplication?
Here's the answer, and it is the key to understanding why NJ is one of the most protective states in the country of the rights of its citizens. The LAD has remedies that are far more favorable than those available under federal law. The most important example is the amount of damages you can recover in court. Under federal law, for many kinds of discrimination as this chart illustrates, the law prohibits an award greater than $300,000. Under New Jersey law there usually is no limit. So you can easily see why virtually all employment cases that arise in NJ are brought in state court applying state law.
Another reason is that in New Jersey there's no need to go through an administrative process before you can file your case in court. Under Title VII, for instance, you must file a charge with the EEOC before you are allowed to go forward in court. New Jersey has a similar administrative remedy through the Division on Civil Rights, an arm of the Office of the Attorney General. There may be situations where it benefits a victim of discrimination to use the EEOC or NJDCR, but it often makes more sense to go straight to court. Under NJ law you can do that.
The discrimination laws have been interpreted by thousands of court decisions, which control how the statutes are applied in practice. Even if you think there is no direct evidence of a discriminatory act by your employer, the courts have a way for plaintiffs to succeed in discrimination cases without it in the form of the McDonnell-Douglas doctrine. A qualified employment lawyer will be able to evaluate whether you have the evidence --- direct or indirect --- that is necessary to go forward with a case in court.
Steinberg Law, LLC practices in the area of employment discrimination regularly, and we we want to help. Please call us or contact us through the form above for an evaluation of your situation.