Articles Posted in race discrimination

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ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Good Morning America and probably even your own Facebook page, have been flooded with varying opinions on the Miami bullying/harassment scandal. This blog entry is written by our New Jersey Employment Lawyers to analyze the facts, as reported, to determine whether a hostile work environment existed that would be in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

For those who have been living under a rock for the week, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left his employment with the Miami Dolphins as a result of, at least in part, constant harassment and bullying directed at him from his teammates. It has been reported that Mr. Martin checked himself into a hospital as a result of suffering from emotional distress caused by the harassment. One teammate in particular, Richie Incognito, has been suspended indefinitely for his role in the harassment and bullying. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed the prominent attorney, Ted Wells, to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of harassment and bullying within the Miami Dolphins.

Based upon the allegations that have reported, Mr. Wells’ investigation should reveal that Jonathan Martin was subjected to a hostile work environment that would be in violation of New Jersey law. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination makes it unlawful to discriminate against an employee on the basis of protected characteristics, which include race, color, disability and sexual orientation. In other words, the discrimination must be based upon one of these protected characteristics in order for the harassment to be against the law. In the landmark case of Lehman v. Toy ‘R’ Us, Inc. 132 N.J. 587 (1993), the New Jersey Supreme Court defined a hostile work environment based upon sexual harassment as discriminatory conduct that a reasonable person of the same sex in the plaintiff’s position would consider sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. The Lehman decision held that New Jersey employers must maintain an effective policy against unlawful harassment/discrimination. An effective policy requires, inter alia, that employers investigate complaints of harassment promptly, thoroughly and completely. All complaints of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination must be fully investigated.

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The New Jersey Appellate Division recently affirmed a trial court’s judgment awarding plaintiff, Mr. Anthony Onuoha, a total of $1,092,424.25 in damages, attorneys’ fees and costs on his claim for discrimination on the basis of race and retaliatory discharge in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).

In this case, Onuoha v. Roche Molecular Systems, Inc., Mr. Onuoha began his employment with Roche Molecular Systems (“Roche”) in February 2004 as a scientist, validating Roche diagnostic test kits used to screen blood for infectious diseases. Mr. Onuoha is an African-American male and was originally hired at Roche through a staffing agency as a temporary employee. In June 2004, Mr. Onuoha applied for an open position at Roche as a senior scientist. Mr. Onuoha accepted the position at the $75k annual salary and began working with the production validation team. He was the only African American working within that group.

In February 2005, Mr. Onuoha received a raise of 4.75% due to a rating of “3” on his annual performance review, which signified he had fully performed his employment objectives. Soon thereafter, Mr. Onuoha discovered that employees within the production validation team hired after him were being paid higher salaries and that new hires at his level were usually paid $88,500. Based on this information, Mr. Onuoha complained about his salary and requested a raise. His request was subsequently denied.

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The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey recently denied the parties cross-motions for summary judgment in the case Reginald L. Cannon v. Bradbury Burial Vault Co., Inc. In this case, the plaintiff, Mr. Cannon, alleges that he was subjected to race discrimination and a hostile work environment discrimination.

Mr. Cannon filed partial summary judgment for racial harassment in violation of Title VII, 42. U.S.C. 2000e, et. seq. as a result of being subjected to a racially hostile work environment at his employment with Bradbury Burial. The defendant, Bradbury Burial, opposed Mr. Cannon’s motion for partial summary judgment m and cross-moved for summary judgment claiming that Mr. Cannon failed to show that the racial discrimination complained of was pervasive and severe and that Bradbury Burial has no respondeat superior liability in the case.

Mr. Cannon’s allegations include numerous events of race discrimination taking place from 2004 through 2009. The incidents complained of primarily involved two co-workers of Mr. Cannon, who called Mr. Cannon racially derogatory names such as “black bastard,” “jigaboo,” “dumb black people” and “nigger”. Mr. Cannon does not allege that any managers or supervisors engaged in any racially harassing conduct. In 2006, Mr. Cannon and one of the co-workers had a physical altercation as a result of the co-worker stating to Mr. Cannon, “f*ck you ‘nigger’. It was also alleged that Mr. Cannon referred to the co-worker as a “spic”. This incident resulted in Mr. Cannon and the co-worker being issued warnings from their supervisor. In 2007, Mr. Cannon complained to his supervisors after learning that co-workers had referred to him as a “coon.” In the summer of 2007, Mr. Cannon got into another physical altercation with a co-worker who called Mr. Cannon a ‘nigger’ during the altercation. In 2009, Mr. Cannon complained about co-workers referring to hip hop music as “jungle music”.