One June 15 the Supreme Court decided Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture, a much anticipated decision to answer this question: can an employer and employee agree to shorten the time for the employee to sue under the NJ Law Against Discrimnation? The short answer: no.
The whole decision is here, but the facts are simple. New Jersey's statute of limitations for employment discrimination claims is two years. The plaintiff signed an employment application containing a waiver that required him to agree to shorten his time to sue from two years to six months. A Spanish-speaker with limited education, the plaintiff signed. He was hired by defendant but a short time later was fired. Nine months after he was fired, arguing that he did not understand the waiver that he signed, he sued for unlawful discrimination. The trial court enforced the six month deadline and dismissed the complaint. The Appellate Division affirmed on appeal. In essence, both the trial court and appeals courts held that “a deal is a deal” and the employee was bound by the shorter time of the employment application.
A unanimous Supreme Court held that, given the importance of the LAD in NJ, as a matter of public policy the two year limitations period cannot be waived by agreement. Thus, the waiver is unenforceable and and employee can proceed with his case.
The Supreme Court's decision once again demonstrates the importance that the courts ascribe to the Law Against Discrimination. The history of changes to the LAD, both by case law and statutory amendment, has been in the direction of providing employees with a greater ability to protect themselves from unlawful discrimination. This decision continues that trend.
The takeaways? For employees, if you have signed an agreement that seems to limit the time within which you may sue, but two years have not yet gone by, you probably still have time to go to court. For employers, you need to find another way to protect your company from possible liability.