There are various laws that protect pregnant women from workplace discrimination and that provide for pregnancy related leave from work.  In fact, there are both federal and state laws that provide New Jersey employees the right to take pregnancy leave to give and recovery from giving birth. Each of these laws have different eligibility requirements that govern whether an employer must provide these rights to their employees.

The most commonly known pregnancy leave related law is the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The FMLA was first enacted and signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.  The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of leave for any 12-month period of time in order to give birth or care for a new born or adopted child.  In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, the employee must be employed by the employer for one year and must have worked 1,250 hours during the one-year period preceding the leave.  If the employer is in the private-sector, they must have at least 50 employees for the FMLA to apply to them.  All public sector employers, regardless of size, are obligated to provide eligible employees pregnancy leave under the FMLA. In order to exercise rights under the FMLA, a pregnant employee must provide their employer notice of their intent to take the leave at least 30 days in advance of their need for the leave.

In a 2015 case entitled Aguas v. State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Supreme Court adopted the federal standard regarding employer liability for workplace sexual harassment. For the first time, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that an employer can avoid liability in situations where the workplace sexual harassment did not result in any tangible employment action if the employer can show (1) it has strong anti-harassment policies and effective reporting mechanisms and (2) the plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of the policies and reporting procedures.

The Aquas ruling dramatically changed the manner in which sexual harassment cases have been litigated in New Jersey.  It has also served as a valuable reminder to all New Jersey employers of the importance of having strong anti-harassment policies in place to protect employees from sexual harassment.

The plaintiff in Aguas v. State of New Jersey, Ilda Aguas, was a corrections officer in the New Jersey Department of Corrections.  During her employment, Ms. Aguas began to experience objectionable sexual harassment at the hands of her supervisor, Lieutenant Darryl McClish. On multiple occasions, McClish both verbally and physically harassed Ms. Aguas, such as by asking her to go to a motel with him, forcing himself on her in imitation of a “lap dance”, and holding Ms. Aguas’s arms behind her back while pressing his genitals against her body and asking “what are you going to do?” Ms. Aguas objected to this behavior directly to McClish, who refused to cease the sexually harassing behavior. Ms. Aguas was additionally harassed by two other supervisors.

The “Diane B. Allen” New Jersey Equal Pay Act was enacted in April 2018, and made effective as of July 1, 2018. In passing the Equal Pay Act, the legislature did not expressly state that the law would be applied retroactively to claims that arise before July 1, 2018.  In September 2018, the first court decision applying the New Jersey Equal Pay Act was decided by the United States District Judge William Martini of the District of New Jersey in Perrotto v. Morgan Advanced Materials, which held that that the New Jersey Equal Pay Act should not be applied retroactively since the legislature did not specifically provide so.

Since its enactment, the New Jersey Equal Pay Act has widely been recognized as providing the strongest protections to workers of any equal pay law in the United States.  The New Jersey Equal Pay Act, which amended New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, prohibits discriminatory pay practices for protected classes for performing substantially similar work. The law is not limited to gender-based pay discrimination, but also includes other protected classes such as race, disability and age. Under the law, an illegal employment practice occurs every time an employee is impacted by a discriminatory compensation decision.

The New Jersey Equal Pay Act also provides for broad protections against retaliation for employees who seek redress from discriminatory pay practices. Specifically, it prohibits an employer from taking reprisals against any employee for requesting from, disclosing with, or disclosing to an employee or former employee or a lawyer from whom he or is she seeking legal advice or governmental agency for information regarding the job title, occupational category, and rate of compensation on the basis of a protected trait such as sex, race, disability, age or others.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TRENTON (February 6, 2019)–Following is a statement from Katie Brennan in response to the findings of Peter Verniero’s inquiry into the vetting and hiring processes of the Murphy administration’s transition office:

“It’s clear from the report that there was a lack of accountability and effective policies and procedures to address a glaring personnel problem in the Transition. I appreciate the recommended reforms and I look forward to seeing additional recommendations from the Joint Select Legislative Oversight Committee so that comprehensive reform can be implemented.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TRENTON (February 6, 2019)–Following is a statement from Katy McClure, attorney for Katie Brennan, of Smith Eibeler, LLC, in response to Gov. Phil Murphy’s statement issued following a January 28, 2019 memo from Deirdre L. Webster Cobb, Esq., Chair/Chief Executive Officer Civil Service Commission, and Mamta Patel, Esq., Director Division of EEO/AA, Civil Service Commission, recommending that  N.J.A.C. 4A:7-3.1 be revised to include Gubernatorial Transition Offices.

“We appreciate the Murphy Administration’s clarification to the New Jersey State Policy and Procedures Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace. However, pursuant to Senate Concurrent Resolution 148 creating the Joint Select Oversight Committee investigating this matter, it was already established that ‘Gubernatorial transition office employees are, in fact, employees of the State of New Jersey[]’ and, therefore, covered by the State’s policy.”

The New Jersey Legislature has passed a bill to enhance paid family leave for New Jersey employees. If Governor Phil Murphy executes the bill, New Jersey employees will receive more pay and more time off from work while caring for a newborn or ill family member.  This would mark another significant legislative victory for employees in New Jersey.

Currently, new parents and caregivers can receive up to six (6) weeks of benefits equal to two-thirds of their pay, with a maximum benefit of $633 per week in paid leave benefits. If bill A3975 is passed as it stands, the eligibility period for time off would expand from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, and further would raise the maximum benefit to 85% of wages, with a cap of $859 per week.

In 2008, New Jersey became the second state to adopt a paid family leave policy. The new bill further enhances the originally penned paid family leave as it expands the term “family member” to include siblings, grandparent, grandchild, parent-in-law, domestic partner, or any other individual related to the employee by blood and any other individual the employee shows to have a close association with which is the equivalent of a family relationship.   The definition of “child” is also expanded under the proposed law to include a foster child and a child who becomes a child of a parent pursuant to a valid written agreement between the parent and a gestational carrier.

It is not uncommon when a sexual harassment claim is filed for controversy to arise regarding who exactly is liable for the harassment. In 1993, the New Jersey Supreme Court held in the case ‘Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us’ an employer may be liable if the sexual harasser was acting within the scope of his or her employment or if the employer was negligent for allowing the existence of a hostile work environment.  After the Lehman decision, questions remained concerning how victims of sexual harassment could prove that their employer was negligent and therefore liable for the sexual harassing conduct of one of its employees. In a 2002 case Maria Gaines v. Joseph Bellino, the New Jersey Supreme Court provided further clarification concerning an employer’s liability for workplace sexual harassment and established a framework for courts to determine whether an employer has an effective anti-harassment policy.

In Gaines v. Bellino, the plaintiff Maria Gaines was an employee of Hudson County Correctional Facility when she began to experience sexually harassing behavior from her supervisor, Captain Bellino. In 1990, Mr. Bellino forcibly kissed Ms. Gaines against her will. Ms. Gaines objected to the assault, and immediately reported it to several coworkers and some other higher level officials of the facility. She was encouraged to report the behavior, but expressed fear of retaliation as well as of Bellino himself. This fear was shared by multiple coworkers, and Gaines was further advised that the facility’s supervisors would most likely not believe her reports of the harassment. Because of this, Gaines chose not to submit a formal report regarding the behavior. Over the next few years, Gaines was subject to additional harassing incidents. On one occasion, Bellino brought up the initial assault in front of a superior officer, adding that he could even rape Gaines and no one would believe her. In early 1995, Ms. Gaines reported the conduct to the warden of the facility. No investigation was conducted until the middle of 1996, and no action was taken until March of 1997, when Bellino was suspended for 30 days.

Ms. Gaines filed a legal complaint against Bellino and the Hudson County Correctional Facility regarding the harassment in 1998. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants noting that the Hudson County Correctional facility maintained an anti-harassment policy and mechanisms for reporting harassment, proven by posters that had been exhibited in the facility as well as a section of the employee handbook that dictated the reporting process. Ms. Gaines appealed this decision, as she argued that the anti-harassment policies were ineffective and not implemented correctly. The question that the New Jersey Supreme Court was charged with answering was whether the Hudson County Correctional Facility’s anti-harassment policy in place were enough to protect an employer from being held accountable for sexual harassment?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Brunswick, NJ (January 23, 2019)–Katie Brennan and her legal team responded on Wednesday to the news that the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) has declined to prosecute her rapist, Al Alvarez. Brennan’s attorneys cited grave concerns about the MCPO’s process and vowed to continue the fight for justice.

“We are deeply disturbed and disappointed by this egregious miscarriage of justice,” said Brennan’s attorney, Katy McClure of Smith Eibeler, LLC. “The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office failed Katie Brennan. The Governor’s staff failed her. The Attorney General failed her. And now the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has failed her as well.”

In the midst of a national discussion regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, the laws prohibiting such egregious behavior as well as the methods of reporting and investigating related complaints have come under scrutiny. Many businesses across the country are reviewing their anti-harassment policies to become legally compliant and limit their liability when sexual harassment occurs at their workplace. In New Jersey, a claim of sexual harassment was first recognized in 1993, in the landmark New Jersey Supreme Court case Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us. Commonly referred to as Lehman by New Jersey employment lawyer and judges, this case set the standard for stating a cause of action for a claim of sexual harassment that created a hostile work environment.

Sexual harassment cases are typically divided into two categories: quid pro quo harassment or harassment that generates a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employer or supervisor attempts to make an employee submit to sexual demands as a condition of his or her employment. Sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment was ill defined prior to 1993, which made Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us the landmark case for sexual harassment cases in New Jersey.

In 1986, Ms. Theresa Lehmann’s employment with Toys ‘R’ Us was drastically altered upon the hiring of Don Baylous as the Director of Purchasing Administration. Under his supervision, Ms. Lehmann and her female coworkers began to experience pervasive sexual harassment that varied from sexualized comments about Ms. Lehmann’s breasts to an instance where Mr. Baylous physically pulled Ms. Lehmann’s shirt over her head to expose her breasts. Ms. Lehmann attempted to report the conduct to several managers, but very little was done to remedy the situation. Instead of addressing Mr. Baylous’s behavior, Ms. Lehmann was offered a transfer to a different department. She rejected this, and later resigned as a result of the harassing conduct and the retaliation she experienced from reporting it. In response to this inadequate managerial reaction, Ms. Lehmann submitted a formal legal complaint of sexual harassment that was initially heard by a trial court. The trial court dismissed all causes of action except battery. Ms. Lehmann appealed, and the appellate court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of her claims of a hostile work environment brought on by sexual harassment, which they remanded for further fact finding. The case eventually found its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court, where it developed into a monumental case in New Jersey court history.

Smith Eibeler, LLC, on behalf of our client, Katherine Brennan, has filed an Order to Show Cause For Temporary and Preliminary Restraints against the State of New Jersey (hereinafter, the “State”), from (1) enforcing the “strict confidentiality directive” found in N.J.A.C. 4A:7-3.1(j) against Ms. Brennan and any witnesses in the EEO/AA investigation being launched in response to her December 4, 2018, testimony before the Legislative Select Oversight Committee (“LSOC”)(hereinafter, the “EEO/AA Investigation”); (2) requiring Ms. Brennan to participate in any EEO/AA investigation until after this litigation and any criminal proceedings resulting from Ms. Brennan’s allegation of sexual assault are completed; (3) requiring Ms. Brennan and other witnesses in the EEO/AA Investigation to sign the “strict confidentiality directive” form; (4) requiring the EEO/AA to investigate the numerous violations of the State’s Policy Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace (“State Policy”) as set forth in the Complaint; and (5) declaring the “strict confidentiality directive”of N.J.A.C. 4A:7-3.1(j)  as null and void.

For the past year, the State has refused to conduct any investigation into any of Ms. Brennan’s reporting that she had been raped by Alvarez. Ms. Brennan exhausted all possible internal avenues of recourse and received no aid or support. Having no other option, Ms. Brennanwas compelled, as a last resort, to bring her allegations into public light. On October 14, 2018, her story was published in The Wall Street Journal. The article laid out in detail not only the rape Ms. Brennan had endured, but also her extensive efforts to prompt the State, through complaints to numerous high level State officials, to take action.

Ms. Brennan’s act of publicly telling her story accomplished what her numerous internal complaints and reports could not: it triggered investigations. As a result of the October 14 Wall Street Journal article, in or about October 2018, numerous investigations and/or reviews were launched in various departments of State and county government, including: (1) an ongoing review by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office of the criminal investigation conducted by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (“HCPO”) into Ms. Brennan’s criminal complaint; (2) a review by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (“OPIA”) into Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez’s involvement in the investigation of Ms. Brennan’s allegations of sexual assault; (3) the ongoing investigation by the LSOC into how sexual misconduct complaints are handled by the state, as well as hiring practices; (4) Governor Murphy’s directive to the Division of EEO/AA to review policies and procedures for addressing allegations of sexual misconduct; and (5) an investigation on behalf of the Office of the Governor by former Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero into the hiring of Alvarez.