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NJ Supreme Court nixes employer’s attempt to shorten statute of limitations

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently held that an employer may not require an employee to agree to shorten the amount of time he has to bring a claim against the employer for violations of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD).  In the case, the employer had included language in its job application form which said, in essence, that if it hired the applicant and then violated his rights, he had to bring any claim against the employer within six months even though the LAD gives workers two years to file their claims.

New Jersey’s LAD has a two-tiered enforcement system with both an administrative agency that accepts complaints and a right for workers to bring claims in court.  If workers in New Jersey want to file a claim with the administrative agency that enforces the LAD, which is called the Division on Civil Rights, they must do so within six months.  The Division on Civil Rights investigates complaints of discrimination, enforces the LAD, and attempts to resolve complaints through conciliation.  However, if the Division on Civil Rights does not act as quickly as the worker would like, he has the option of withdrawing his complaint and proceeding to court.

The New Jersey Supreme Court held that it was particularly important to the LAD that workers have the option to file with the Division on Civil Rights and then, subsequently, withdraw that complaint and file in court.  In this case, the employer’s application language would essentially force workers to choose between filing in court or proceeding before the Division on Civil Rights, instead of having both options.  The court believed this would significantly undermine the purpose of the LAD, which is to eradicate discrimination not only because discrimination hurts individual workers but also because it “menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic state.”

The Court also noted that workers may not approach an attorney immediately upon experiencing a violation of his rights.  He may try to get the employer to remedy the violation before getting an attorney.  While he tries to get his employer to remedy the violation, his deadline to file claims is not postponed.  So, months may have gone by while the worker tries to work with his employer before those efforts breakdown and he decides to get an attorney.  During this time, many workers may not realize that they signed a job application, potentially years before, which shortened the time they had to pursue claims against their employer.  Furthermore, an attorney will want to investigate the worker’s case before taking it, which can also take months, and this shortened deadline for filing a claim eats into the attorney’s ability to do this investigation.

For all these reasons, a six month deadline to bring claims is simply not reasonable.  The employer in this case likely knew that such a deadline was not reasonable and was hoping that it could knock out most, if not all, of the claims of employees by relying on this shortened deadline.  Fortunately, this scheme failed.

The deadlines in Maine for filing an employment discrimination complaint are different than in New Jersey.  The deadline for filing a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission—the administrative agency that enforces the Maine Human Rights Act—is 300 days from the date of the discriminatory act.  If you believe your employer has violated your rights under the Maine Human Rights Act, you should act quickly and contact an experienced employment attorney, like the attorneys at the Maine Employee Rights Group, as soon as possible.  The attorneys at the Maine Employee Rights Group will provide you with a free and confidential review of your potential claims.