Tag Archives: workplace relations

What New Jersey’s New Law On Employment Contracts Means for Employers: Are Non-Disclosure and Arbitration Provisions Out?

Law should know concept, The lawyer explained to the client to plan the case in court.

On March 18, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a new law, which, among other things, bars employers from requiring employees to sign or enforcing employment contracts that require employees to agree to waive certain rights or remedies and bars agreements that conceal details relating to discrimination claims.

Here’s what employers need to know:

  • Any provision in an employment contract that waives or limits any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment will now be deemed against public policy and unenforceable;
  • No right or remedy under New Jersey’s “Law Against Discrimination,” or “any other statute or case law” shall be prospectively waived;
  • A provision in any employment contract or agreement that has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment shall be deemed against public policy and unenforceable;
  • For unionized work forces, this law does not restrict agreements to waive rights contained in collective bargaining agreements, but it does extend its prohibition to clauses designed to conceal details of a discrimination claim from unionized employees;
  • Attempting to enforce an agreement that is unenforceable under this law will give employees a private right of action to sue in court and the right to recover their attorney’s fees and costs of suit if they prevail;
  • The law protects employees from retaliation for refusing to enter into an agreement that violates their rights under this new law;
  • The law does not restrict an employer’s right to impose and enforce restrictions on the use of the employer’s confidential and proprietary information other than with respect to the details of discrimination claims;
  • The law does not expressly prohibit confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements meant to prevent disclosure of the amount of a settlement;
  • The law does not require disclosure; rather it leaves the choice in the hands of the individuals involved; and
  • The law took effect immediately and applies to all new contracts and agreements and existing contracts that are renewed, modified, or amended going forward.

Although the law is aimed primarily at prospective waivers of rights and clauses concealing the details of discrimination claims, the full scope of this law’s applicability will become clear only after it has been interpreted by the courts.  For example, one of the most significant open questions is whether New Jersey courts will deem mandatory arbitration provisions in employment agreements unenforceable as to discrimination claims and, if they do, whether the Federal Arbitration Act will, in turn, be deemed to preempt such a limitation on the enforcement of arbitration clauses.  Another important question is whether courts will construe this law to bar confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements that restrict employees from disclosing the terms of the settlement.

As we wait for the courts to resolve these and other open questions, employers should proceed thoughtfully when seeking confidentiality in connection with a claim of discrimination.  A precisely drafted confidentiality agreement or policy might be desirable in some situations, such as to preserve the integrity of an ongoing investigation, but employers need to be mindful of this law and understand the limitations and potential consequences of requiring confidentiality and/or taking disciplinary action when confidentiality is breached.  Employers relying on mandatory arbitration provisions should also consider the impact of this law and consult their counsel in evaluating whether to exclude discrimination claims from arbitration.

If you have any questions about this legal alert or if you run across a related issue in your workplace, please feel free to contact Adam Gersh or any other member of Flaster Greenberg’s Labor & Employment Department.

Crash Course: The Intersection of Race Relations, Employee Relations, and Social Media

Race relations have taken center stage in our 2016 presidential election and in our headlines, so naturally topics of race relations have permeated the workplace.  This raises important issues for employers, especially when faced with employees who openly protest racial discrimination in society at large because such protests may be controversial and increasingly public due to the proliferation of social media.  Most important, employers need to know federal anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation protections may be interpreted by courts to extend to certain types of employee informal protests of discriminatory employment practices, including making complaints to management, writing critical letters to customers, protesting against discrimination by industry or society in general, and expressing support for co-workers who have filed formal charges.

Specifically, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”) was enacted to deter racial discrimination in the formation and enforcement of contracts, and also prohibits retaliation, both in and out of employment.  In interpreting Section 1981, the courts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, among others, held that its protections extend to prohibit retaliation that punishes an individual for opposing conduct that violates Section 1981, whether that individual or some third party was the victim of the § 1981 violation.  In other words, an employee who protests discrimination may have anti-retaliation protections even when the forms of protest may be controversial and even if the employee was not individually a victim of the discrimination that is the subject of the protest.

In a recent employment case, L Brands/Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC (“Victoria’s Secret”) terminated a district manager for what it perceived to be racist Facebook posts.  As an example, the employee used her Facebook feed to repost a picture depicting a person wearing a Ku Klux Klan-reminiscent white, hooded robe with the Los Angeles Clippers logo and the number 42, and was captioned “Game 5 in LA is Free Sheet Night…Donald Sterling Bobble head doll night too!,” a reference to the headlines about racist actions of Sterling, the Clippers’ owner at the time. When Victoria’s Secret was notified about the posts, it investigated and terminated the employment of the district manager.  The district manager brought suit under Section 1981 alleging she was the victim of retaliation for protesting discrimination by Sterling and others on Facebook.  Victoria’s Secret won the case (at least at the trial level) by showing that, irrespective of the district manager’s subjective intent, the message of the post was so unclear that no reasonable jury could find that this image objectively complained about or protested incidents of race discrimination prohibited by Section 1981.  In this case, the court’s decision rested on its finding that there was no clear connection between the alleged protected conduct and a contractual right and, in any event, the court found no reasonable person could have believed that the underlying incident complained about constituted unlawful discrimination.  As the court further explained, an “oblique reference” to or “mere mention of race” or race-based discrimination does not constitute protected opposition to violations of Section 1981, rather it must be an objectively identifiable protest of discriminatory practices in the formation and/or enforcement of contracts.

Employers can take little comfort in Victoria’s Secret’s win, however, because it was essentially based on the Court’s determination that the content of the district manager’s post was not clear enough to trigger anti-retaliation protections.  Arguably, the result would have been much different if the employee were clearer about her own feelings and tied them to a contract, even if her form of protest was offensive to Victoria’s Secret and its customers.

The takeaway:  Employers must be cautious and should consult with counsel before disciplining employees for conduct that could be construed as protesting discrimination, even when the employee’s conduct appears offensive on its face.

Questions? Let me know.

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