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.

Most people know what sexual harassment is when they see it.  Whether an employer is responsible for sexual harassment that occurs at the workplace, however, is a more complicated fact specific inquiry.

It is first important to understand the definition of unlawful sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.  The first form of sexual harassment is quid pro quo harassment.  A claim of quid pro sexual harassment occurs when an employer attempts to make an employee’s submission upon a sexual demand or sexual proposition a condition of employment.  The second form of sexual harassment is a claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment.  The elements of a hostile work environment sexual harassment is when the harassment (1) would not have occurred but for the employee’s sex, and the harassment was (2) severe and pervasive enough to make a (3) reasonable woman believe that (4) the conditions of the employment are altered and the working environment is hostile or abusive.

The first issue to determining whether an employer can be liable for sexual harassment that occurs at its workplace in a lawsuit is to identify the damages an employee is seeking in the case.  An employer will be liable for equitable damages and relief  if he or she seeks restoration of the terms, conditions and privileges of employment that he or she would have enjoyed but for the discrimination or sexual harassment.  Equitable relief is not money damages.  Instead, an employee who seeks equitable relief as a result of sexual harassment is looking for the court to require the employer to act or refrain from performing a particular act such as stopping the harassment, job reinstatement or other non-monetary relief.

In July 2018 Elizabeth Rowe, the principal flutist and Walter Piston chair in the Boston Symphony Orchestra (“BSO”), filed a gender discrimination lawsuit alleging that the BSO violated the newly enacted Massachusetts Equal Pay Act.  Rowe argues that the BSO was paying her less to perform substantially similar work – when viewed in terms of skill, effort, and responsibility – than it was paying her male counterparts, simply because she was a woman and they were men.  Gender is a protected class, under the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act and most other civil rights statutes, and discriminating on the basis of one’s membership in a protected class is against the law.

Rowe framed her argument by pointing to one of her BSO colleagues, the orchestra’s principal oboist John Ferrillo.  As another principal in the orchestra, Ferrillo holds a similar position to Rowe, and yet his salary is nearly $65,000 greater than hers. Comparing these two positions is naturally an imperfect exercise, as an oboe and a flute are obviously different instruments.  A rough approximation can be made by looking at one piece of objective data: since joining the BSO in 2004, Rowe has performed as a soloist 27 times, while Ferrillo has performed as a soloist just 14 times.  Notably, Ferrillo supports Rowe’s efforts to obtain equal pay.  At the request of Rowe’s employment attorney, Ferrillo provided a statement of his opinion that Rowe was “every bit [his] match in skill, if not more so.”

Rowe’s case provides a look at the problem of gender discrimination on the individual level, but it is a systemic issue in orchestras, and can be difficult to isolate due to the many factors that impact salary decisions.  The BSO has raised some of these factors in defending the discrepancy in Rowe’s pay: the talent pool for certain instruments is deeper and thus they are in lower demand; individual players can be uniquely talented leading to a bidding war over their services; random factors akin to ‘right time, right place’ can come into play.  When looking at some nation-wide statistics, however, these explanations become dubious.  As the Washington Post reported, an analysis of 78 top-earners from 21 orchestras in the United States shows that: (1) 82% of those top-earners are men; (2) the men in the pool make on average just over $52,000 more than the women; and (3) the top male earner makes $535,789 while the top female earner makes only $410,912.

On Monday, the New Jersey State Assembly approved a bill that would provide a substantial tax benefit to victims of unlawful workplace discrimination, retaliation, or other violations of laws that regulate any aspect of the employment relationship.  This bill was first introduced in the New Jersey State Senate in January 2018, and has enjoyed widespread, bi-partisan support as it has worked its way through the legislative process.  Monday’s approval by the Assembly, by a unanimous vote of 79 to 0, was the final legislative hurdle.  If Governor Phil Murphy signs the bill into law, it will be a great victory for victims of workplace discrimination and retaliation across New Jersey.

In 2004, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act. The Civil Rights Tax Relief Act was intended to, among other things, eliminate a flaw in the tax treatment of awards won by plaintiffs who successfully prosecuted claims of discrimination or retaliation.  Prior to 2004, a plaintiff who received an award in a discrimination or retaliation case were required to include in their gross income the entire amount of that award.

This was the case, despite the fact that a portion of that award constituted attorney’s fees and costs that were awarded along with the amount awarded for the plaintiff’s damages. Not only did this tax treatment negatively impact those plaintiffs, it also subjected that portion of the award to double taxation, as the attorneys who ultimately collected those fees and costs were also required to include that amount in their gross income. Congress cured this flaw by exempting that portion of such a plaintiff’s award from their gross income.  In approving the legislation on Monday, New Jersey is finally following suit.

The #MeToo movement has brought long overdue attention to the systemic societal problems concerning workplace sexual harassment throughout the United States and the State of New Jersey.  Most sexual harassment claims by a New Jersey employee are brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, a state statute.  While a New Jersey employee or resident may also bring a claim of sexual harassment under the federal statute, Title VII, most New Jersey employment lawyers counsel clients to proceed with their sexual harassment claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). This blog outlines the various types of workplace sexual harassment claims brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

In enacting New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law, the state legislature expressly declared “discrimination threatens not only the rights and proper privileges of the inhabitants of the State but menaces the institutions and foundation of a democratic State.”  N.J.S.A.10:5-3.  New Jersey courts interpreting the LAD have long and consistently recognized that employers are best situated to avoid or eliminate impermissible, pernicious employment practices relating to sexual harassment, to implement corrective measures to stop future sexual harassment, and to adopt and enforce employment policies that will serve to achieve the salutary purposes of the legislative mandate to end workplace discrimination.  New Jersey courts consistently remind us that the overarching goal of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination is nothing less than the eradication of the cancer of discrimination.

There are different claims of sexual harassment that are actionable against an employer.  These include claims of hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and sexual harassment retaliation.