Is New Jersey trying to out “California” California with new employment laws?

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What caught my eye this morning, I mean, other than my new Carson Wentz fathead — ok, fatheads — was this Law360 headline:

“NJ Ruling May Widen Exposure To Excessive Jury Awards”

Gulp…

So, bigger jury awards, huh…

This Law360 report from Jeannie O’Sullivan (subscription required) highlights the recent decision in Cuevas v. Wentworth Group. In Cuevas, two plaintiffs filed an action under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) claiming that they were victims of race-based discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliatory firings. A jury awarded them $2.5 million.

But, the employer felt that the award broke the mold, so to speak. Thus, it asked the trial court to slash the jury’s award. But, the court refused.

And, as Ms. O’Sullivan writes, the NJ Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the lower court’s decision opens the door to bigger jury verdicts in employment cases:

In a unanimous Sept. 19 decision, the justices upheld a trial judge’s refusal to reduce a $1.4 million emotional distress award to two former Wentworth Property Management Group executives in a racial discrimination case. The high court said the judge rightly relied on testimony and observations of the jury in the specific case, rather than on her own judicial experience or previous verdicts in other cases. Wentworth had earlier said the damages figure “shocked the judicial conscience.”

In reaching their decision, the justices stressed the deferential standard of review of a jury’s award of damages. The trial court had determined that, given the evidence presented, the emotional-distress damages award didn’t shock the judicial conscience, according to the opinion.

As for why a judge’s personal experience with past verdicts shouldn’t factor into a remittitur ruling, the justices noted those experiences aren’t part of the record.

All the more reason to settle cases, rather than roll the dice, where feasible.

And plenty of time to sue you, too.

Separately, Michael Booth at New Jersey Law Journal reports here about this Assembly Bill, which would codify this NJ Supreme Court decision and provide for a two-year statute of limitations in discrimination cases under NJ’s Law Against Discrimination, while prohibiting certain waiver provisions in employment contracts.

Got all that? Ok, it’s like this.

Over the Summer, the NJ Supreme Court concluded that an agreement to shorten the two-year limitations period for private LAD claims — even a conspicuously-worded contract that an employee signs — is unenforceable. The Assembly Bill goes the next step by making it illegal for a company to require employees or prospective employees, as a condition of employment, to waive any rights afforded them by law, such as…

  • the right to a jury trial,
  • any damages a jury may award them, or
  • the normal statute of limitations on employment claims

….and cue music.

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