Pregnancy Discrimination Laws in New Jersey
Even as you are eagerly awaiting the birth of your child, your joy can quickly turn to distress if you are discriminated against on account of your pregnancy. Fortunately, federal and New Jersey state pregnancy statutes protect your rights and provide you with options if you are subject to unfair treatment by your employer. In addition, there are laws that enable you to take a leave of absence without fear of losing your job.
However, the legal landscape is complicated and seeking your lawful remedies can be a complex process. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, it is critical to work with a New Jersey pregnancy discrimination lawyer who will enforce your rights and protect your interests.
Rights of Pregnant Employees Under Federal and New Jersey Law
Pregnancy discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. In general, this means that employers cannot treat pregnant employees any differently than other workers who have medical issues that affect their work-related tasks. More specifically, there are two types of protections offered by federal and NJ pregnancy laws:
- Pregnancy Discrimination: This category includes a wide array of acts, some of which your employer may not even realize are discriminatory. Declining to hire you, refusing promotions, pay cuts, changing work assignments, harassing comments, intimidation, termination, and similar misconduct could trigger pregnancy discrimination laws.
- Reasonable Accommodation: Your employer must make fair allowances for pregnancy-related medical conditions, though what is considered reasonable may vary depending on the circumstances. Flexible hours, working remotely, assigning appropriate work projects, and similar accommodations may meet the legal standard. If an accommodation would cause undue hardship or is prohibitively costly, it may not be considered reasonable.
Leaves of Absence for Pregnancy and Related Conditions
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and New Jersey Family Leave Act both allow employees to take leave in advance of childbirth, to recover after your child is born, to bond with your infant, and to handle any related health issues. Under federal law:
- The company must employ more than 50 workers within a 75 mile radius;
- You must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months prior to requesting leave; and,
- The laws guarantee that you can return to your job, in the same or similar position, after taking leave.
There are two key differences in the state and federal laws. Under leave for maternity laws in NJ, you can take up to 12 weeks during any 24-month period; the federal statute allows you 12 weeks during a 12-month period. In addition, you are only eligible for FMLA leave if you worked at least 1,250 hours before taking time away. The New Jersey law sets the bar lower, at 1,000 hours in the previous 12 months beforehand.
Neither of these statutes require your employer to pay you during your time away, but New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave Act may apply to your situation. If you qualify, you may get up to six weeks of paid time off for pregnancy or to adopt a child. You will not be paid a full salary, but can earn two-thirds of your wages up to a certain cap per week. Eligibility rules apply, so you must have earned a certain amount in salary before taking paid leave.
Applicability of Federal and New Jersey Pregnancy Laws
Though the federal and state statutes are similar in the types of conduct considered unlawful, their applicability to New Jersey employers varies. Federal pregnancy discrimination laws apply to employers who have 15 or more full-time workers. New Jersey pregnancy laws are broader, requiring compliance by any employer. Therefore, all New Jersey workers are eligible to file a claim for discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy.
Your Legal Remedies for Pregnancy Discrimination in New Jersey
If you believe you have been discriminated against on account of your pregnancy, you may seek enforcement of your rights under either federal or New Jersey pregnancy laws. There are two options available:
- You can file an administrative claim with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies have a work-sharing cooperation agreement, so it is not necessary to file with both. It is advisable to consult a lawyer before filing. Through these proceedings, you can resolve your pregnancy discrimination claim by participating in a mediation process with your employer.
- You can directly sue your employer in court. Unlike other states, New Jersey does not require you to exhaust your administrative remedies with the DCR or EEOC before filing a lawsuit. In a discrimination case, you sue for damages related to the losses you suffer due to your employer’s legal violations. If successful, you can recover:
- Lost wages and benefits;
- Damages for emotional distress;
- Punitive damages, in certain cases;
- Attorneys’ fees; and,
- Other filing fees and court costs.
In addition, you may be able to obtain an order reinstating you to your position if you were terminated for discriminatory reasons or while you were on a legally proper leave of absence.
You should note that there are strict time limits on filing a claim or lawsuit. Federal law requires to you file a claim within 300 days, starting from the same date.
If you opt to sue under NJ LAD, the New Jersey statute of limitations requires that you file a lawsuit within two years after the wrongful conduct occurred. You are forever barred from seeking monetary damages if you wait until after this time period expires.
Contact a New Jersey Pregnancy Discrimination Attorney to Discuss Your Rights
For more information on pregnancy discrimination and your legal remedies, please contact Console Mattiacci Law by calling 215-545-7676 or visiting us online. Our New Jersey pregnancy discrimination lawyers have the skills and experience to ensure protection of your rights, backed by extensive knowledge of the relevant federal and state statutes. We can schedule a free consultation to review your circumstances and explain your options.