Representing Employees in Age Discrimination Litigation
Our employment law attorneys represent employees in negotiations and litigation over age discrimination in the workplace in both the public and private sector.
Age Discrimination Under Both New Jersey and Federal Law
Both Federal and New Jersey employment law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or prospective employees because of their age. Employers cannot fire employees or refuse to hire prospective employees because of their age. Moreover, age cannot be a reason for an employer to pay an employee less, demote them, pass them over for a promotion, give them an unfavorable assignment, give them a negative review, or take any other negative employment action against them because of their age.
The state law prohibiting age discrimination is New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. The main Federal counterpart to the Law Against Discrimination is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the “ADEA.” Both laws prohibit age discrimination, but both laws have very different coverage and protections. Two recent cases illustrate these differences.
Age Discrimination in the Federal Courts
An important case illustrating both the protections and limitations of the ADEA is Karlo vs. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC. The Karlo case was decided by the United States Court of Appeals for Third U.S. Judicial Circuit. The Third Circuit sits in Philadelphia, but hears appeals from the federal trial courts in New Jersey the ADEA only protects workers who are older than forty. During the Great Recession, the employer suffered financial setbacks and had to conduct several rounds of reductions in force (“RIFs” or “layoffs”). Many of the employees who lost their jobs were over fifty. They sued Pittsburgh Glass, arguing that the RIFs impacted older workers far more severely than younger workers, even though the RIFs did not on their face target older employees. Such “disparate impact” is illegal, and can lead to employer liability even if the employer had no intention to discriminate. The employer argued because forty to fifty year old workers were not discriminated against, there was no disparate impact on the protected class. The Third Circuit didn’t buy this argument, however. It ruled that the ADEA protects age discrimination overall, not just discrimination against all workers over forty. The over forty provision sets the lowest age at which workers can sue for age discrimination under federal law; it does not require that the action negatively affects all forty years old and older workers.
Age Discrimination Under New Jersey Employment Law
New Jersey law provides much greater protection, and wherever possible our attorneys will file suit in New Jersey state courts instead of federal courts – not to say that the federal courts don’t provide protection to employees. It’s just that New Jersey state courts and New Jersey employment law provides employees much greater procedural and substantive legal protection.
A New Jersey Supreme Court decision provides a great illustration of the extensive protections afforded to employees by the Law Against Discrimination. The case was Bergen Commercial Bank vs. Michael Sisler. The bank highly recruited Sisler, who left his previous job after the bank reached out to him and made him a great offer. However, only several days after Sisler started working for the bank his supervisors learned that Sisler was only twenty five years old. One supervisor, shocked, told Sisler never to disclose his age because it would too embarrassing for the supervisor. Then, only eight days after started, the supervisor told Sisler it “wasn’t working out,” and asked Sisler to resign. He refused – he hadn’t been looking to leave his last job, and only quit because the bank recruited him and made him a great offer. However, the bank fired Sisler several months later any way. They only told Sisler that it “wasn’t working out.”
In the litigation that ensued, Sisler filed suit claiming that the bank violated New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination by firing him because he was too young. This seemed to fly in the face of the accepted wisdom, which was that age discrimination occurred only when it was because the employee was too old. The trial judge agreed with that adjustment and dismissed Sisler’s LAD claim. Sisler then appealed.
The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with Sisler and ruled that an employee could have a valid claim for violation of the LAD because the employee was too young. The Supreme Court explained that the LAD prohibited only discrimination because of “age.” It did not limit it to old age. The only limitation in the LAD was that employees had to be at least eighteen years old to sue for age discrimination. For employees eighteen years old and older, age discrimination is age discrimination, and it is all prohibited.
The Supreme Court recognized, however, that age discrimination was usually against older workers, so a claim of age discrimination because of youth was essentially “reverse discrimination.” Therefore, in this case the employee had to prove that his employer was “the unusual employer which discriminates against the majority.”
Our Employment Attorneys
Our employment lawyers have decades of experience representing New Jersey employees in the public and private sector. We can help you with your employment law issues. Email us or call (973) 890-0004.