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Retaliation in New Jersey: State Supreme Court Broadens the Definition of Protected Activity

New Jersey has some of the most comprehensive antidiscrimination and antiretaliation laws in the country, including the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).  A recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision further proves the willingness of New Jerseys’ judges to interpret these laws consistent with their statutory intent to provide broad protection for victims of discrimination and retaliatoin.

In Battaglia v. United Parcel Service Inc., a UPS supervisor (Battaglia) brought retaliation claims against UPS for demoting him after he complained about his manager’s inappropriate sexual comments regarding female employees, although no female employee ever actually heard these comments. Although Battaglia cautioned his manager against voicing similar comments in the future and sought the help of the UPS Human Resources department, he was demoted from manager to supervisor shortly after his complaints were made. Battaglia also brought CEPA whistleblower retaliation claims against UPS for demoting him in response to his allegations of abusive company credit card and lunch break practices.

When the case was originally brought before a jury in the Superior Court of NJ, the jury found UPS liable for retaliation in violation of both the LAD and CEPA and awarded Battaglia over 1 million dollars in damages. UPS appealed the decision and the case was heard in the NJ Appellate Division, which upheld Battaglia’s CEPA claims but reversed the lower court’s LAD verdict. The Appellate Division stated that Battaglia did not have claims under the LAD because he had failed to identify a specific victim of his manager’s discriminatory comments. When the case reached the NJ Supreme Court, the Court reinstated Battaglia’s LAD claims but dismissed his CEPA claims.

In its opinion, the Court explained that CEPA claims cannot be based on minor company policy violations. At the same time, the Court ruled that an employee does not have to identify a victim of discrimination in order to bring a retaliation claim under the LAD for expressing concern. This ruling is great news for NJ employees who stand up for co-workers that have been discriminated against for belonging to a protected class. Such employees can be assured that they will be legally protected from employer retaliation.

If you are a NJ employee who has voiced concerns regarding the discriminatory actions or comments of coworkers directed at coworkers in the workplace, and faced subsequent adverse action, contact an attorney with experience bringing retaliation claims under the NJ Law Against Discrimination.

Christopher Davis is an experienced employment litigator specializing in class actions, overtime wage recovery, discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, and Wall Street bonus disputes. Before entering private practice, Mr. Davis served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office where he prosecuted violent crimes as a member of the Sex Crimes Unit.

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