When your employer retaliates against you because you stood up against illegal conduct — such as discrimination or sexual harassment — it has engaged in illegal conduct in New Jersey. That’s equally true whether the action you opposed harmed you or harmed someone else. If you’ve been punished because you spoke out — whether on behalf of yourself or a coworker — you should contact an experienced New Jersey retaliation lawyer about your situation.
As a recent example, there’s the story of a New Jersey police detective who allegedly intervened on a behalf of a coworker experiencing sexual harassment… and suffered a demotion as a result.
R.R. had worked for the Trenton Police Department from 2007 to 2011 (when he lost his job in a round of mass layoffs,) and returned to the force two years later. By 2019, he had risen to become a detective and part of the Shooting Response Team as well as the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, NJ.com reported.
Then, in September of that year, a female colleague allegedly told him that her supervisor had “made unwanted advances toward her and pressured her to go out with him for drinks.” The supervisor also allegedly pointed out to the woman that some female officers had sex with their supervisors to obtain “positions of preference” within the department. Furthermore, the supervisor threatened to reassign the female officer, which the woman took as a threat of punishment for refusing the supervisor’s advances, according to R.R.’s lawsuit.
R.R., believing the female colleague to be “emotionally and physically distressed,” decided to step in, according to the complaint. The supervisor allegedly became “defensive and aggressive,” so R.R. went to Internal Affairs.
The detective likely hoped that the department would take some punitive action against the supervisor. Instead, the department punished him, demoting him to patrol officer and assigning him to the detention unit, according to the complaint. In addition to the demotion, R.R. allegedly became the target of threats, with one captain telling R.R.’s brother (who also was a TPD officer) that the captain was going to “[mess] up” R.R.
So he sued, and that legal action ended with the city settling and paying the officer a five-figure sum.
This officer’s successful settlement of his case is a reminder of the broad protections that New Jersey law has regarding retaliation. The law in this state (as well as federal law) says that your employer cannot take adverse action against you because you engaged in protected activity.
That, of course, probably triggers multiple questions, such as…
What is Protected Activity?
The term protected activity — within the realm of anti-retaliation law — covers many things. You are, for example, shielded from retaliation for opposing discrimination or harassment. You’re also protected if you’ve stood up against violations of family leave (either FMLA or NJFLA) laws. This “opposition” can take the form of filing a charge to an equal employment agency, submitting a formal complaint to your employer’s HR team, or even just complaining orally to your supervisor about the illegal conduct.
Other protected activities can include answering questions posed by management or HR about alleged illegal conduct, speaking to investigators, or giving testimony (including a deposition.) Your activity is protected whether the target of the illegal conduct was you or someone else. That means that speaking out on behalf of a colleague who allegedly endured sexual harassment from a supervisor is protected activity.
Determining that you engaged in protected activity is only part of the equation. There’s also…
What Constitutes Adverse Action?
The types of punishments that can trigger a viable retaliation claim are also numerous. Clearly, being fired or demoted constitute adverse activity. So also are reductions in pay, and reduction of hours. Reassignment to a less desirable role and/or team — even if not a technical demotion — can qualify. Being purposefully excluded from certain meetings, training sessions, and/or employment activities are additional ways in which you potentially can meet the adverse action requirement.
In R.R.’s case, his employer demoted him from detective to patrol officer and reassigned him from the more desirable task force and response team roles to a less desirable one in the detention unit. Each of these qualified as a valid potential basis for a retaliation claim.
Reaching out to those in authority when you’ve spotted illegal activity (such as discrimination or sexual harassment) in your workplace shouldn’t come with a price. For too many workers, though, it does. If you have experienced that sort of mistreatment at work, it’s possible you’ve endured illegal retaliation and may have a winning case in court. The skilled New Jersey workplace retaliation attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to offer workers like you the advice you need and the advocacy you deserve. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.