New Jersey Supreme Court to hear case on timeframe to file employment lawsuit

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Various federal and state laws protect workers from employment law violations, including the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the NJ Law Against Discrimination, and others. Such laws allow an employee to file a lawsuit if the employee experiences harassment, discrimination, wage theft, wrongful termination, or other employment law violations. However, these laws include deadlines under which the employee must file to be able to recover – or the employee forever loses the right.

Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to hear an important case regarding whether an employer can include a statute of limitations waiver provision in a garden variety employment application. If legally permissible, that waiver would reduce the employee’s time to file a claim by 75%, from two years to six months. The state’s highest court has now agreed to consider the issue and will hear oral arguments sometime in 2015. The actual opinion could take up to 18 months for the Court to publish.

Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Company, Inc.

The case, Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Company, arose when a driver employed by a furniture company became injured and management laid him off. The employee filed a lawsuit claiming the employer discriminated against him because of his disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Under the LAD, an employee who experiences an adverse employment action such as harassment, discrimination, or wrongful termination based on a protected class has two years from the date of the action to file a claim (statutes of limitation vary depending on the particular law governing the claim).

However, the employer sought to dismiss the lawsuit, because the employee had signed a waiver that limited the amount of time he could file a lawsuit to six months from the adverse action taken against him. He did not meet that deadline. The trial court therefore dismissed his lawsuit, and he appealed, claiming that the waiver was not legally enforceable because it was “unconscionable” and against public policy. While two parties are generally free to enter into a contract on a number of employment issues, a contract term or possibly the entire agreement may be found unenforceable if it is “manifestly unfair or oppressive.”

Appeals court finds discrimination claims time-barred by waiver

In 2014, in Rodriguez, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, held fully enforceable a clear and prominent statute of limitations waiver regarding an employment violation. The opinion noted the waiver was conspicuously placed and in capital letters on the employment application. The employee argued that an application form severely limits a job-seeker’s negotiating power, but the Appellate Division was unconvinced. The judges wrote that Mr. Rodriguez had the same bargaining power as any other job applicant, no more and no less. Essentially, they accepted the employer’s argument that an applicant who dislikes a term of employment has the free market right to reject the job offer and go elsewhere.

The employee’s argument to the Supreme Court, bolstered by the National Employment Lawyers’ Association “friend of the court” brief, is that New Jersey employers should be prohibited from asking prospective employees to “dumb down” their rights (A) before they set foot in the door, (B) when no claims are pending, and (C) without the advice of legal counsel. Employers should not have the right to second guess the Legislature’s public policy decisions in the sensitive area of workplace civil rights enforcement.

Workers’ employment law claims require experienced legal review and help

The New Jersey Supreme Court has yet to hear oral argument in the case, so the issue’s final resolution remains unclear. But whatever the decision of the state’s highest court, it should be obvious that aggrieved employees need experienced employment law counsel for prompt advice and advocacy. Employees who do not quickly pursue and protect their rights when confronted with a possible employment law violation may find themselves unable to bring a claim to recover, no matter how egregious the employer’s civil misconduct.

For help with an employment law claim, contact the seasoned employment law attorneys at Hanan M. Issacs, P.C. We are “compassionate counsel and tough advocates”. And we will work for you.

Keywords: Employment law, statute of limitations, wrongful termination.