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NJ congressman supports federal LGBT employment discrimination ban

Longtime New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J., sent a March 18, 2014, letter along with 220 other members of Congress to President Barack Obama urging him to issue an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual identity.

ENDA quotes Pallone as also hoping the U.S. House of Representatives will approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA, already passed by the Senate. ENDA would go farther than the president could if he banned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or LGBT employees of federal contractors; ENDA would extend a federal ban to include public and private employers with at least 15 employees.

ENDA would basically make LGBT employees members of a protected class under federal anti-discrimination laws that already prohibit illegal discrimination based on race, gender, disability, age, religion and more.

New Jersey anti-discrimination law

According to the Huffington Post, 33 states do not forbid employment discrimination or harassment against LGBT employees, but New Jersey is not one of those jurisdictions.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination or NJLAD declares equal employment opportunity to be a civil right for several protected classes, including those concerning “affectional or sexual orientation” (since 1992) and “gender identity or expression” (since 2007).

A prospective or actual employee is a member of the protected class concerning affectional or sexual orientation not only based on actual orientation, but also when he or she is only “perceived” or “presumed” to have a particular sexual orientation.

The statute defines gender identity or expression as “having or being perceived as having a gender related identity or expression whether or not stereotypically associated with a person’s assigned sex at birth.” NJLAD allows reasonable work grooming standards and dress codes, but employees must be allowed to “appear, groom and dress consistent with … gender identity or expression.”

Under NJLAD, illegal employment discrimination includes that affecting “compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” NJLAD applies to public and private employers regardless of the number of employees. It also forbids people from assisting others in illegal discrimination.

Legal remedies

NJLAD is complex and includes deadlines for filing complaints. Victims of illegal discrimination under the act must choose whether to file a complaint with a state agency or in state court. It is important to consult an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to understand the pros and cons of these choices and for assistance in timely filing.

Administrative remedy

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights or DCR is the state agency empowered to investigate discrimination allegations, issue employer fines, require mediation or conciliation conferences, and hold hearings.

If the agency finds unlawful discrimination, it may order the employer to rehire or promote the employee; calculate and pay missed wages; pay money damages for emotional distress; and cover the employee’s legal fees.

Judicial complaint

If the employee alleging discrimination files his or her complaint in Superior Court, similar legal remedies are available, but there is also the right to jury trial and possible punitive damages, those designed to punish an employer.

Legal counsel important

New Jersey employees should seek legal advice to understand their rights and potential legal remedies if they feel they have been the victims of illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or any other protected class. Similarly, any New Jersey employer needing legal guidance to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws or that faces a charge of illegal discrimination should seek out a skilled New Jersey employment lawyer for advice and representation.

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