Filing a Discrimination Claim - New Jersey

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in New Jersey?

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, religion, color, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, nationality, ancestry, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, sex, or liability for military service. The law also makes genetic discrimination illegal, preventing an employer from considering or testing for an atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait or genetic information.

New Jersey law regarding age discrimination differs from the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in several significant ways: New Jersey law protects workers under 40, unlike the ADEA which covers only workers over 40; workers 70 and older cannot bring an age discrimination claim for failure to hire, but may bring an age discrimination claim for other forms of discrimination; and all workers who prevail in age cases may recover compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer), which are not allowed under federal law. Information on federal law on age discrimination is available here.

New Jersey law also provides broader protection for employees with disabilities than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it does not require that the employee have a substantial limitation of a major life activity. Information on federal law on disability discrimination is available here.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in New Jersey?

Discrimination claims can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a work-sharing agreement, which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to cross-file the claim with the other agency.

The New Jersey anti-discrimination statute covers employers of any size. Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you may wish to file with the DCR, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. Filing with the DCR is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court, but if you do not have an attorney, you may wish to see whether the DCR can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court. DCR complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against.

Some attorneys in New Jersey recommend that if a lawyer is going to pursue a claim on your behalf, however, that you not file with either the DCR or EEOC, because if the DCR finds no probable cause (that you do not have enough evidence to support your discrimination claim, according to the DCR), you cannot further pursue your claim in court. If you wish to consult an attorney about taking your case, you should do so as early as possible, so that you do not miss your 180-day filing deadline in the event you need the DCR's assistance.

To file a claim with the DCR, contact your closest office below. More information about filing a claim with the DCR can be found at http://www.state.nj.us/lps/dcr/index.html.

Atlantic City Satellite Office
26 Pennsylvania Avenue
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
Phone: (609) 441-3100
Fax: (609) 441-3578

Camden Regional Office
2 Riverside Drive, Suite 402
Camden, NJ 08103
Phone: (856) 614-2550
Fax: (856) 614-2568

Newark Regional Office
31 Clinton Street
P.O. Box 46001
Newark, NJ 07102
Phone: (973) 648-2700
Fax: (973) 648-4405
Paterson Regional Office
100 Hamilton Plaza
Paterson, NJ 07501
Phone: (973) 977-4500
Fax: (973) 977-4511

Trenton Regional Office
140 East Front Street
P.O. Box 090
Trenton, NJ 08625-0090
Phone: (609) 292-4605
Fax: (609) 984-3812

TTY User Information
TTY Users may contact the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights through the New Jersey Relay Operator. Dial 711 and ask the Relay Operator to contact the Division at (609) 292-7701.

To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

EEOC's Newark Area Office
1 Newark Center, 21st Floor
Newark, NJ 07102-5233
Phone: (973) 645-6383
TTY: (973) 645-3004

3. What are my time deadlines?

If you choose to have an administrative agency assist you, do not delay in contacting the DCR or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for the DCR to act on your behalf, you must file with the DCR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in New Jersey?

If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the DCR or EEOC and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. (Please note that if the DCR makes a finding of no causea finding that your case is without merit, you are not allowed to go to court under state law. Instead, you must appeal this determination.) A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as detailed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your case. This process is called exhaustion of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required to file a discrimination claim in court based on state law.

Because New Jersey law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer), damages that are capped under federal law, many New Jersey attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under state law only. However, cases may be brought in either state or federal court, using state or federal law.

Once the EEOC issues the document known as Dismissal and Notice of Rights or Notice of Right to Sue (Form 161), only then can you file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) If you have filed with the DCR, after your case has been pending with the DCR for 180 days, you may request a similar right-to-sue notice from the DCR to proceed to file your New Jersey claim, as long as the DCR has not already issued a no cause finding in your case. A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within 2 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against. These deadlines are called the statute of limitations.

If you have received one of these agency dismissal notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.