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.”