Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers New Jersey employment discrimination. The purpose of New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to protect workers in New Jersey from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about New Jersey employment law and how the law protects you.
1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in New Jersey?
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, religious creed, color, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, nationality, ancestry, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, sex, or liability for military service. The law also makes genetic discrimination illegal, preventing an employer from considering or testing for an atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait or genetic information.
New Jersey law regarding age discrimination differs from the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in several significant ways: New Jersey law protects workers under 40, unlike the ADEA which covers only workers over 40; workers 70 and older cannot bring an age discrimination claim for failure to hire, but may bring an age discrimination claim for other forms of discrimination; and all workers who prevail in age cases may recover compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer), which are not allowed under federal law. Information on federal law on age discrimination is available on our age discrimination page.
New Jersey law also provides broader protection for employees with disabilities than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it does not require that the employee have a substantial limitation of a major life activity. Information on federal law on disability discrimination is available at our disability discrimination page.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in New Jersey?
Discrimination claims can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency.
The New Jersey anti-discrimination statute covers employers of any size. Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you may wish to file with the DCR, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. Filing with the DCR is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court, but if you do not have an attorney, you may wish to see whether the DCR can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court.
Some attorneys in New Jersey recommend that if a lawyer is going to pursue a claim on your behalf, however, that you not file with either the DCR or EEOC, because if the DCR finds “no probable cause” (that you do not have enough evidence to support your discrimination claim, according to the DCR), you cannot further pursue your claim in court. If you wish to consult an attorney about taking your case, you should do so as early as possible, so that you do not miss your 180-day filing deadline in the event you need the DCR's assistance.
To file a claim with the DCR, contact your closest office below. More information about filing a claim with the DCR can be found at the DCR webpage.
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC Filing a Charge page.
EEOC's Newark Area Office
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC's state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
3. What are my time deadlines?
If you choose to have an administrative agency assist you, do not delay in contacting the DCR or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for the DCR to act on your behalf, you must file with the DCR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. To preserve your claim under federal law, generally you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 180 days from the date the discrimination took place. If a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination, then the deadline is extended to 300 days. For age discrimination claims, there must be state law that prohibits age discrimination and a state agency to enforce the law, for the 300 day extension to apply. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in New Jersey?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the DCR or EEOC and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. (Please note that if the DCR makes a finding of “no cause”—a finding that your case is without merit—you are not allowed to go to court under state law. Instead, you must appeal this determination.) A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as detailed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your case. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required to file a discrimination claim in court based on state law.
Because New Jersey law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer), damages that are capped under federal law, many New Jersey attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under state law only. However, cases may be brought in either state or federal court, using state or federal law.
Once the EEOC issues the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161), only then can you file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) If you have filed with the DCR, after your case has been pending with the DCR for 180 days, you may request a similar “right-to-sue” notice from the DCR to proceed to file your New Jersey claim, as long as the DCR has not already issued a “no cause” finding in your case. A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within 2 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against. These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.”
If you have received one of these agency dismissal notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.