Author: Suzanne Herrmann Brock

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

In Roman v. Bergen Logistics, LLC, the Appellate Division recently held that a plaintiff was required to arbitrate her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation with her former employer. The court also held, however, that the arbitration agreement’s contractual provision that barred the employee’s access to punitive damages was unenforceable. Background Plaintiff Milagros Roman was hired by the defendant, Bergen Logistics, as a human resources generalist. She signed an arbitration agreement at the outset of her employment. In addition to requiring Roman to arbitrate any and all claims related to her employment, the arbitration agreement compelled her to waive any claim for punitive damages. After her termination, Roman filed a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that her former supervisor sexually harassed her, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The defendants moved to dismiss Roman’s complaint and compel her to arbitrate her claims. The Law Division found that Roman knowingly signed the arbitration agreement and that the agreement contained an unambiguous waiver of claims for punitive damages. Accordingly, that court held that Roman was required to submit her claims to arbitration and could not seek punitive damages. Roman timely appealed. The Appellate Division’s Decision The Appellate Division held that the arbitration...

Governor Murphy Signs New Jersey Pay Equity Legislation

Yesterday, Governor Murphy signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act. The new law will go into effect July 1, 2018. For a description of the law and how it will affect New Jersey employers, please see our previous blog post. If you have any questions regarding how to comply with New Jersey’s new pay equity law, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys in the Gibbons Employment & Labor Law Department.

Ninth Circuit Holds Salary History Does Not Justify Wage Differences Between Male and Female Employees

In a precedential en banc opinion, Rizo v. Yovino, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined that an employee’s prior salary cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees under the Equal Pay Act. Significantly, this decision overrules established prior Ninth Circuit precedent that an employee’s prior salary constitutes a “factor other than sex” under the Act upon which a wage differential may be based. Background The Plaintiff, Aileen Rizo, was hired by the Fresno County Office of Education in 2009 as a math consultant. At the time of her hire, her starting salary was determined in accordance with Fresno’s standard operating policy which provided that the salary for all new hires would be set by adding five percent to their previous salary. In or about 2012, Rizo learned that male colleagues who were hired after her were earning more than she. In 2014, Rizo filed a lawsuit against Jim Yovino in his official capacity as the Superintendent of the Fresno County Office of Education alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, and California law. At the District Court, Fresno admitted that it paid Rizo less than her male colleagues for the same work, but argued that the pay differential was permissible based on the Equal Pay Act’s...

New Jersey Legislature Passes Sweeping Pay Equity Legislation

Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate and Assembly passed comprehensive pay equity legislation. The legislation passed both houses with significant bi-partisan support and it is expected that Governor Murphy will soon sign the legislation into law. Once in effect, the legislation, which amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“the LAD”), will be the most wide-ranging pay equity law in the United States. Significantly, unlike most pay equity laws passed in recent years by other states which target unlawful pay discrimination of women, the New Jersey law will prohibit pay discrimination of employees in any protected class. Specifically, the legislation makes it an unlawful employment practice to discriminate against a member of any protected class by compensating the employee at a lesser rate of pay, benefits, or other forms of compensation than an employee who is not a member of the protected class for “substantially similar work.” The “substantially similar” standard, which diverges from the “equal work” standard of the federal Equal Pay Act, mirrors the California Fair Pay Act. Moreover, the legislation provides that comparisons of wage rates shall be based on wage rates in all of an employer’s operations or facilities regardless of where located. An employer will be permitted to pay a different rate to an employee if it can show that the...

Gov. Murphy’s First Executive Order Prohibits State Government from Asking Applicants about Salary History

Governor Phil Murphy has signed an executive order which bars state workers from asking job applicants seeking positions with the state about their previous salaries in his first official act after his swearing-in on January 16, 2018. State entities may now only inquire as to an applicant’s past salary history after the entity has made a conditional offer of employment, which includes an explanation of the compensation package being offered to the applicant. The goal of the executive order is to eliminate wage inequalities that result from female employees who accept lower starting salaries and then remain on a lower compensation track, with pay disparities compounding over time. Significantly, at the signing ceremony, the Governor stated that he would sign a bill that extended these same provisions to private sector employers which the legislative sponsors vowed to move quickly to his desk. In fact, legislation has already been introduced that prohibits an employer from inquiring about the salary history of an applicant. Assembly Bill 1094 was introduced on January 9, 2018 by Assemblywoman Joanne Downey (D-11) and referred to the Assembly Labor Committee. Senate Bill 559 was introduced by Senator Nia Gill (D-34) on January 9, 2018 and referred to the Senate Labor Committee. The legislation, described by legislative sponsors as an effort to promote...

Tax Bill Effects the Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Settlements of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Abuse Claims

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“the Act”), signed into law today, has received considerable media coverage, a provision included in the Act that affects the ability of employers to deduct settlement payments and attorney’s fees for claims involving sexual assault or sexual harassment has received little attention. Nonetheless, this provision will have a significant impact on how employers resolve claims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Specifically, the Act provides that any settlement or payment related to claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse may not be deducted as a business expense if the payments are subject to a nondisclosure agreement. The Act also provides that any attorney’s fees incurred related to such a settlement with a nondisclosure agreement may not be deducted. The new law applies to “any settlement or payment related claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse” whether or not a lawsuit has actually been filed. Importantly, these provisions are effective immediately, and thus all payments made after the effective date of the Act in connection with the settlement of a sexual harassment or a sexual assault claim are subject to these new provisions. Read literally, the new law precludes employers from deducting the amounts of such settlements for payments made after the effective date of the Act even if...

NLRB Rules That Class Action Waivers in Employment Agreements Violate the NLRA

On January 3, 2012, The National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in, D.R. Horton, Inc. Case No. 12-CA-25764. This is a significant decision for all employers as it prohibits the use of class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements. Specifically, the Board held that arbitration agreements that contain provisions that prohibit employees from filing joint, class or collective claims addressing their wages, hours or other working conditions against their employer, in any forum, violate Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Professionals Who Are Paid On An Hourly Basis May No Longer Be Exempt From Overtime Under New Regulations

As we previously reported on September 6, 2011, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) adopted the so-called “white collar” exemptions for Administrative, Executive, Professional, Outside Sales, and Computer employees as contained in the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Employers are not required to pay overtime compensation (i.e. compensation at the rate of 1.5 percent of the employee’s regular hourly rate) to an employee who qualifies for one of these exemptions. The new regulations were intended to provide consistency between federal and New Jersey law. They leave open the possibility, however, that employees who previously qualified for an exemption under New Jersey law may now have to be reclassified as non-exempt. The issue is raised by the New Jersey Appellate Division’s recent decision in Anderson, et al. v. Phoenix Health Care, Inc., et al.

ABA Formal Opinion 11-460 is at Odds With Stengart v. Loving Care Agency, Inc.

The American Bar Association recently published Formal Opinion 11-460 to provide guidance to attorneys regarding their ethical duty upon discovering emails between a third party and the third party’s attorney. The Opinion interprets Model Rule 4.4(b) literally, concluding that neither that rule nor any other requires an attorney to notify opposing counsel of receipt of potentially privileged communications. The Opinion is of particular note because it directly contradicts the New Jersey Supreme Court’s opinion in Stengart v. Loving Care Agency. Inc. 201 N.J. 300 (2010).

DuPont v. Kolon: A Lesson In How To Avoid Sanctions For Spoliation Of Evidence

Two recent decisions in the same case illustrate that, when it comes to imposing sanctions for spoliation of evidence, what matters is not simply whether you’ve intentionally deleted relevant evidence, but how you go about deleting it, and what the record reflects about your intentions. Although both the plaintiff and the defendant in E.I. du Pont De Nemours and Co. v. Kolon Industries, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:09cv58, demonstrated that the other intentionally destroyed relevant evidence, as is detailed below, the Court sanctioned only defendant Kolon Industries, Inc. (“Kolon”) based on its manifest bad faith (read the decision here). As is discussed in an earlier post on Gibbons’ E-Discovery Law Alert (which you can read here), plaintiff E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (“DuPont”) escaped a similar fate based on its demonstrable good faith. In short, this case teaches that the intentional deletion of relevant evidence does not per se lead to sanctions. Rather, the parties’ conduct — or misconduct, as the case may be — must be judged contextually.