New Jersey Anti-Discrimination Statute Trumps Private Employment Contract
June 23, 2016
In <a href="https://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/A2714SvRay.pdf"><em>Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Company, Inc</em>.,</a> New Jersey’s highest court weighed in the impact of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) on a party’s freedom to contract. <em>Rodriguez</em> involved a dispute over an employment contract and the limit of time in which a claimant may pursue his or her claim. Following an offer of employment by Raymours, Rodriguez was presented with an employment contract, which included a provision that any grievance regarding Rodriguez’ employment must be brought within six months of the date that the alleged event occurred.
Rodriguez signed the contract. Some months later, he was injured on the job. After surgery and physical therapy, Rodrigues returned to work. Two days later, he was terminated, purportedly due to a company-wide reduction. Seven months following his termination, Rodriguez sued his former employer, alleging violation of the LAD, claiming that his termination was discriminatory because less senior employees (perhaps more able-bodied) were not let go.
The Supreme Court considered the well-settled legal principle that individuals are free to contract as they choose to determine whether Rodriguez forfeited his right to sue his employer after six months had passed since his termination. However, in this instance, the Court also focused on the intent of the statute that Rodriguez based his claim on, which included a two-year statute of limitations in which to file a claim.
The LAD was enacted for the benefit of the public, the Court reasoned, to protect those workers with disabilities. In reviewing the employment contract Rodriguez signed, the Court determined that the provision limiting a claimant to a six-month window in which to pursue litigation against the employer for alleged grievances encompassed by the LAD was against public policy, and therefore unenforceable.
Thanks to Emily Kidder for her contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: email@example.com">Mike Bono</a> for more information.