It’s unlawful for your employer to threaten your ability to perform your job duties due to discrimination. Workplace Discrimination includes unwarranted treatment in any phase of the employment process – from hiring practices and advancement opportunities to daily work tasks, compensation and termination. Classes and traits protected from this behavior include age, race, color, sexual orientation, religion, disability, national origin, gender, genetic information liability, marital status, and ethnicity.
The law protects workers from this illegal treatment. But you need to follow the proper processes and procedures to ensure that you are able to take advantage of your legal rights and remain eligible to receive just compensation for the damages you have suffered. As the victim of workplace discrimination, you have the option of filing your claim with either the New Jersey administrative agency, the federal one, or directly in court.
Filing a Discrimination Claim with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR)
The New Jersey and federal administrative agencies cooperate with one another in claims processing through an established work-sharing agreement. So, when you choose to file your claim with the state’s Division on Civil Rights (DCR), you just need to let them know that you wish to cross-file your claim with the federal entity.
If you work for a small company with less than 15 employees, the DCR is your best administrative option. Timeliness is important, as you only have up to 180 days from when your employer discriminated against you to file your claim. You need to file your claim personally since they don’t accept complaints via email or over the phone. The DCR has offices throughout the state located in Atlantic City, Paterson, Camden, Trenton, and Newark.
You will contact one of the DCR offices to schedule an intake appointment with a representative there who will determine whether your complaint falls under New Jersey’s Family Leave Act (FLA) or the state’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD). If it does, the employee will help your complete and file a formal complaint. DCR will send your Complaint to your employer and demand an answer and response from them. Your claim will then proceed through the established DCR process.
Filing a Charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Federal law applies to employers with more than 14 employers, so your company must meet this criterion if you wish to file your complaint directly with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. New Jersey’s EEOC office is in Newark. The EEOC offers filing options in person, by mail and online. You can initiate the process by telephone, but once the EEOC phone representative confirms that the discrimination you experienced is covered by law, you need to file your charge via their approved venues.
For in-person filing, you can walk-in and wait for an available staff member or schedule an appointment via the online EEOC Public Portal. You’ll discuss your experience with the EEOC employee who will help you determine whether a Charge of Discrimination is suitable for your situation. The staff member will help you complete your complaint and create an account on the EEOC Public Portal to file your charge online. You can then check in on the status of your claim online as it progresses.
The EEOC will send notice of your charge to your employer. They may also ask you both to participate in mediation. If mediation is not required or proves unsuccessful, the agency will move into the investigation phase. The EEOC gives New Jersey private employees up to 300 days to file a claim after the alleged act of discrimination. However, it’s best to stay within the state’s 180-day timeframe to ensure you can meet other statutory time limitations if you need to pursue a different path.
Filing a Civil Claim in a New Jersey Court
The DCR does not need to give you permission to pursue a lawsuit directly in state court under state law, though the agency can issue a right-to-sue notice. However, an adverse decision can prevent you from suing if they issue a finding of “no probable cause.” If that happens, your only option in continuing with your claim is to file an appeal with the agency.
To file a lawsuit under federal employment discrimination laws, you must first try and fail to resolve your complaint in the EEOC – this is exhaustion of your federal administrative remedy. To move your case to court under a federal claim, you need a Notice of Right to Sue or a Dismissal and Notice of Rights from the EEOC. You only have 90 days from receipt of your notice to file your case in state or federal court.
The benefit of suing in state court under New Jersey discrimination law rather than under federal law is the damages your can sue for. Federal law caps compensatory and punitive damages, whereas New Jersey law doesn’t.
Neither the DCR, nor the EEOC require that you have legal representation to file your complaint. It’s even possible to pursue a civil claim without a lawyer. However, you do so at your own risk. Timely complaints are essential to avoid losing your right to file and/or sue. Determining the best route to pursue for your specific claim can be difficult and confusing without skilled legal guidance. If you have questions about your rights and legal options, contact the experienced New Jersey Workplace Discrimination Lawyers at Castronovo & McKinney to schedule a free consultation.