NEW JERSEY SUPREME COURT RULES EMPLOYERS CANNOT CONTRACTUALLY SHORTEN TIME LIMITS ON WORKER EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION SUITS

On June 15, 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court, the highest court in this state, issued its decision in Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Company, Inc. in which it addressed whether the two-year statute of limitations under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) could be shortened by a private agreement.

In that case, Plaintiff Sergio Rodriguez applied for a job at the furniture store.  The last page of the employment application, which he signed and submitted, contained a section that read, in bold capital letters, “I agree that that any claim or lawsuit relating to my service with Raymour & Flanigan must be filed no more than six months after the date of the employment action that is the subject of the claim or lawsuit.  I waive any statute of limitations to the contrary.”   A few years later, Rodriguez suffered a work-place injury, and two days after he returned to full-duty work, he was fired.  He filed a lawsuit seven months after he was terminated alleging employment discrimination based on actual or perceived disability in violation of the LAD.

Defendant argued that because Rodriguez filed the lawsuit after the six-month statute of limitations period, his lawsuit should be dismissed.  The trial court ruled in favor of Defendant, holding that the waiver provision was clear and unambiguous and that the shortening of the statute of limitations period was not unreasonable or against public policy, as Rodriguez contended.  Rodriguez appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision.  Although the court found that the employment application was a contract of adhesion, Plaintiff had ample time to review it.   Rodriguez appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

On appeal, Plaintiff argued, in part, that contractual shortening of the statute of limitations would frustrate the remedial purpose of the LAD.  The court reversed the lower court’s decision and decided in favor of Plaintiff.  The court recognized that although parties have the freedom to contract, there is strong public interest that the LAD serves to protect in trying to elimination discrimination.  The court further stated that the contractual shortening of a limitations period effectively eliminates claims because it would not allow enough time for an aggrieved person to bring forth their claims and the two-year statute of limitations was purposefully designed to create uniformity and certainty.   As such, the court ruled that the two-year time frame to bring a claim under the LAD cannot be altered through a private agreement.

The full decision can be found here.

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