New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination provides some of the strongest protections against unlawful workplace discrimination against individual members of protected classes such as race, gender and sexual orientation. Unfortunately, even with strict anti-discrimination laws and a state-wide push towards inclusivity, numerous instances of homophobic workplace discrimination and harassment continue to rise. Recently, two New Jersey State Troopers have filed suit in the Monmouth County Superior Court, alleging years of workplace discrimination within the NJ State Police Department, based on their sexual orientation.
Lieutenants John Hayes and Jamie Lascik joined the State Police in 2001, and have worked closely with New Jersey and the New Jersey State Police (“NJSP”) to create an inclusive and diverse workplace. Hayes, who is an openly gay man, and Lascik, who is a gay African American woman, alleged repeated instances of discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Their suit alleges five violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and provides detailed situations where supervisors and other employees subjected them to ongoing harassment for their sexual identity. As summarized in the lawsuit, the “ongoing harassment and disparate treatment constitute a continuing violation,” of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, and the situation consisted of a pattern of retaliatory hostility, recurring intimidation, and differential treatment by supervisors over the course of many years, up to and including 2021.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination is one of the most comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in the country. It prohibits employment discrimination and bias-based harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, and multiple other factors. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination also prohibits both the creation and allowance of a hostile work environment that occurs when an employee shows that their severe and pervasive harassment would not have occurred but for the employee’s protected class membership status, and that a reasonable person of the same protected class would believe that the conditions of employment have been altered to where work environment is hostile or abusive. A hostile work environment based on sexual orientation occurs when an employee is subjected to harassing and unwelcome conduct that occurs because of the employee’s sexual orientation.
These allegations follow the NJSP’s announcement that the force is creating a number of internal departments intended to promote diversity and inclusivity. In January, 2021, the NJSP announced their creation of a Diversity and Inclusion unit. This unit was enacted with the goal to diversify the NJSP and develop a strategic plan to foster an inclusive and respectful workplace. The public announcement emphasized the importance of creating an internal culture within the NJSP that embraces diversity and inclusion, and “create an environment where current members of different races, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations can flourish.” These goals would be achieved by establishing annual diversity training for all employees, assisting with the recruiting programs, and enhancing current outreach initiatives.
The lawsuit emphasizes Hayes and Lascik’s disappointment in the NJSP, following their public attempt to embrace diversity and inclusion. The lawsuit shares that, “all of these events corresponded with other unwelcome conduct, including many members of the police force repeatedly saying negative comments about the LGBTQ community … and this repeated hostility did alter the conditions of [Hayes and Lascik’s] employment.” The lawsuit also highlights the institutions the NJLAD, attempts to strike down, because “hear[ing] such discriminatory comments from someone whose central job function is ensuring equality is disheartening, offensive, and particularly unwelcome conduct.”
The New Jersey State Police and New Jersey Attorney General’s Office both declined to comment on Hayes and Lascik’s allegations, instead referring to the New Jersey State Police policy not to comment on pending litigation. Conversely, Hayes and Lascik have been candid and open about their experience within the NJSP. . Hayes announced his sexuality to a State Police lieutenant in 2008, and, according to the suit, “his then-Lieutenant basically equated his homosexuality to being a pedophile.” Lascik recounted similar situations, specifically noting that her sexuality repeatedly removed her from consideration for promotions, despite her qualifications and abilities. The lawsuit recounts numerous times when both Hayes and Lascik were overlooked and harassed by supervisors because of their sexuality.