Employee protection against retaliation has always been expansive under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”). However, in Battaglia v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 214 N.J. 518 (2013), the New Jersey Supreme Court further expanded this protection for employees.
In Battaglia, the plaintiff alleged that his complaints about his supervisor’s use of offensive, vulgar and derogatory language when referring to women was protected under the LAD, and that his subsequent demotion was in retaliation for his complaints. Plaintiff, however, could not identify an actual victim of the discrimination. Nonetheless, the Court agreed with plaintiff, and held that the evidence supported the jury’s conclusion that the employee’s complaints were, in fact, protected activity and that his subsequent demotion was in retaliation for his complaints.
In reaching this decision, the Court noted “when an employee voices a complaint about behavior or activities in the workplace that he or she thinks are discriminatory, we [the Court] do not demand that he or she accurately understand the nuances of the LAD or that he or she be able to prove that there was an identifiable discriminatory impact upon someone in the requisite protected class. On the contrary, as long as the complaint is made in a good faith belief that the conduct complained of violates the LAD, it suffices for purposes of pursuing a cause of action.”
In addition, the Court explained that “workplace discrimination ‘menaces the institutions and functions of a free democratic State.’ We [the Court] would ill serve those important purposes were we to demand that one who voices complaints as did plaintiff in this matter, and who suffers retaliation as a consequence, also prove that there is a separate, identifiable victim of actual discrimination.”
Therefore, the practical take-away for employees is that you need not have a complete understanding of what is discriminatory conduct and/or protected activity under the LAD to be entitled to protection from retaliation under the LAD. Indeed, you do not even have to identify an actual victim of discrimination. Rather, you need to have a good faith belief that your complained-of-conduct violates the LAD, and to have been subject to retaliation in violation of the LAD based on your complaints.