A wrongful discharge lawsuit that was filed alleging breach of contract, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act by a former public works laborer in late February highlights issues that can arise when an employee who is involved in a whistleblowing retaliation action against their employer is then discharged by those targeted by the action.
While the Tenafly Department of Public Works claims that the laborer was fired for falling asleep on the job, he insists that he had come into work that day even though he was sick, and passed out after completing his work tasks due to his medical condition, whereby he was allegedly filmed by the same supervisor that he had reported previously for treating employees unfairly. The laborer also claims that he was not provided with any warning, information, or evidence related to the discharge, and the decision to fire him is, instead, connected to a discrimination and harassment lawsuit filed against the department in 2017 that he was a party to. His wrongful discharge lawsuit demands that he not only be reinstated but also receive lost wages and medical benefits.
Federal and State Laws Relevant to Wrongful Discharge
While New Jersey is an at-will employment state, both employers and employees have to understand that this does not mean that employers can terminate employees in violation of certain federal and state rights, such as rights enumerated in employment contracts, civil rights, the right to be free from discrimination, etc. Specifically, some of the relevant laws that apply include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for employers to fire employees based on color, national origin, race, religion, or sex
- A number of additional federal laws that prohibit job discrimination based on mental or physical disabilities, such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, etc.
- The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, which prohibits employers from firing employees due to nationality, pregnancy, race, sex, sexual orientation, and other protected classes
- State and federal whistleblower laws, which protect employees from being fired for reporting discriminatory behavior
Previous Employee Lawsuits Against Tenafly DPW
Interestingly, this is not the first employment law issue that has come up for Tenafly DPW: Another employee filed a lawsuit against the department in 2014, alleging that he was subjected to an abusive work environment and discriminated against due to his disability. Specifically, in spite of agreements that he had with the department concerning limitations that would be inherent in his job responsibilities in order to accommodate his disability, he alleged that his supervisors targeted him for his disability and forced him to perform job duties that caused him physical issues while threatening to fire him if he failed to perform them. He alleged that these same supervisors also targeted him with mentally abusive, hostile behavior. In 2017, the department agreed to settle the lawsuit and pay the employee $400,000.
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At McOmber McOmber & Luber, we take a proactive approach to each and every legal issue our clients face, helping both employers and employees with legal areas including employment contracts, discrimination, law, litigation, whistleblowing, and retaliation issues. Contact our office today to find out more.