A New Jersey Supreme Court decision Wednesday sinking employer time limits on worker discrimination claims eradicates the certainty that such contractual restrictions could provide businesses over possible suits, forcing companies to think long when it comes to document retention and other litigation precautions, attorneys say.
The justices ruled that the six-month litigation time limit spelled out in an employment application for Raymours Furniture Co. Inc. and signed by plaintiff Sergio Rodriguez ran counter to the state’s Law Against Discrimination, which allows two years for aggrieved workers to file court claims under the statute. In a lawsuit filed nine months after he was fired, Rodriguez alleged it was his disability, not a workforce reduction, that got him canned.
The justices followed the court’s employee-friendly leanings and dealt a blow to New Jersey employers wanting to rely on contractual time limits on litigation to better predict their exposure to discrimination claims, according to McCarter & English Partner Thomas A. Doherty.
Doherty and other attorneys representing businesses pointed out that six months is the time frame within which employees have to file discrimination claims with the state’s Division of Civil Rights, an administrative alternative to a court lawsuit, which the justices acknowledged in their unanimous decision. The two-year limit that applies to court claims came under the high court’s 1993 ruling Montells v. Haynes and specified a time frame that some lawyers consider arbitrary.
“Instead of deferring to an agreed-upon limitations period that matches what is actually in the text of the Law Against Discrimination, the court attributed talismanic value to a two-year limitation period that it judicially engrafted onto the LAD statute,” said Doherty, who is based in the firm’s Newark office.