New Jersey

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Domestic Case Law

Schiavo v. Marina Dist. Development Co., LLC Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division (2015)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Twenty-one former employees of the defendant’s hotel and casino alleged sexual discrimination, gender stereotyping, and disparate treatment and impact as a result of their employer’s standards for appearance. The casino instituted a standard weight applicable to men and women (which was 7% above a base rate adjusted for gender). The women’s job was to bring drinks to casino patrons, and to do so wearing a revealing costume. The plaintiffs reported incidents of sexual harassment by casino patrons to their employers, who did not address the incidents. The lower court granted summary judgment to the casino on the complaints of facial discrimination citing the statute of limitations. However, the appellate court determined that the summary judgment was in error, as it did not take into consideration that the plaintiffs’ claim that the employer ignored sexual harassment by casino patrons, creating a hostile work environment was a continuing violation. Because one of the alleged acts occurred within the two years prior to filing the case, the case is thus not time-barred.



Matter of J.W.D. New Jersey Supreme Court (1997)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Defendant appealed the trial court’s determination that he could not have the return of his firearms after a second domestic violence complaint. Upon appeal the appellate division reversed. The State appealed, and the Supreme Court of New Jersey found that the defendant was not entitled to the return of his firearms if the court were to find he posed a threat to public health, safety or welfare under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Before the plaintiff and the defendant divorced, the plaintiff filed two domestic violence complaints. During the first complaint, the police confiscated the defendant’s guns and firearms purchaser identification card. The defendant ultimately obtained his firearms back. Subsequently, as the parties’ divorce action was pending, the second complaint arose when the plaintiff went to pick up their son from the defendant’s house. The police once again confiscated the defendant’s weapons. In addition to these confrontations, the defendant had affixed post-it notes to the windows stating, “danger, enter at your own risk,” and set up devices that appeared like booby traps. Further, during the parties’ marriage, the defendant would play music, strap on a holster and walk around the house with his gun. The plaintiff never knew if the gun was loaded on these occasions. The court found this established enough evidence to warrant denial of returning the firearms, as the defendant posed a threat to public safety and health under the Prevention to Domestic Violence Act.



In re Civil Commitment of W.X.C. New Jersey Supreme Court (2010)

Sexual violence and rape

Defendant burglarized two homes several times and raped two women, one at knifepoint and one with the threat of a gun, living in them. The defendant also walked into a nursing home, dragged a female resident into a bedroom and demanded that she perform oral sex on him. The defendant subsequently entered a plea agreement involving twenty-four years in prison with a twelve-year period of parole ineligibility. During the defendant’s sentence, the New Jersey legislature enacted the Sexually Violent Predator Act (N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26). Towards the end of the defendant’s sentence, the State filed a petition to have him civilly committed. The defendant challenged the petition and argued that he was not provided with sex offender treatment while incarcerated, and thus, commitment would violate his due process rights. Id. at 185-86. The civil commitment court rejected this challenge and found that the Sexual Violent Predator Act is not unconstitutional on its face as applied to an individual who did not receive treatment while incarcerated. The court then found the defendant was a sexually violent predator and committed him. On appeal, the defendant argued that the Act is unconstitutional because it is used as a vehicle for further punishment. The court found that the Act was not punitive and serves to deter and prevent sexual violence.



In re Civil Commitment of S.S. New Jersey Superior Court (2011)

Sexual violence and rape

Here, the court affirmed a judgment involuntarily committing the petitioner to a Special Treatment Unit as a sexually violent predator under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24). Under this act, the state must prove by clear and convincing evidence that an alleged offender is a “sexually violent predator and currently suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes him highly likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined.” In this case, the defendant had been indicted for aggravated sexual assault of five pre-teen females, five counts of kidnapping, two counts of terroristic threats, two counts of robbery, two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon, and two counts of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. The court found that the state’s use of expert testimony that the petitioner’s condition predisposed him to sexual violence established by clear and convincing evidence that he is a high risk to re-offend unless confined.



Mancini v. Township of Teaneck New Jersey Supreme Court (2004)

Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Plaintiff was hired as a police officer. Since the beginning of her employment she felt that other members of the Department were unhappy because they felt it was not a job for women. Plaintiff also suffered sexual harassment. During her first four years there, plaintiff had a locker in the men’s room as there were no women’s locker rooms, and male co-workers would shower and walk around naked in the locker room. Plaintiff’s boss told her that he did not expect her to make it as an officer, that he did not want women on the job, and that he would not accommodate her, but that he had a mattress waiting for her in his closet. The plaintiff interpreted this as a sexual advance. Plaintiff also received other inappropriate remarks, for example, in response to plaintiff’s complaint about not having a shower, her boss told her several times that he would wash her. Officers also kept pornographic magazines and pinups both at work and in patrol cars. The plaintiff also received in her mailbox at work panties, a motel key, and a note reading, “back stabbing c-t.” There were also sexual cartoons, some pertaining to her and others to other women. Plaintiff ultimately sued for sexual harassment and sex discrimination. At trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $1 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. The trial court vacated the punitive damages and reduced the compensatory damages. The defendant appealed, asserting laches – that the plaintiff unreasonably delayed in filing the suit. The court found the defendant did not make an adequate factual record in this defense and it otherwise affirmed the holding finding the defendant liable.


Gaines v. Bellino New Jersey Supreme Court (2002)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff worked the midnight shift in a prison. One night another officer kissed her without any invitation and subsequently repeatedly referred to the incident, and made intimidating jokes about raping the plaintiff. Despite being made aware of these incidents, plaintiff’s superiors did not take any action. It was almost two years before the warden responded to plaintiff’s attempts to talk to him about the harassment, at which time plaintiff refused to file a complaint in fear for her safety. The warden later advised her again to file a complaint and issued a cease and desist letter to the officer. Eventually, the County filed disciplinary charges against the officer but dismissed the charges. Plaintiff eventually brought a lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment. Although the County had an anti-sexual harassment policy, numerous employees testified that they were never trained on the policy, and the plaintiff testified that the policy was loosely enforced. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint, reasoning that the fact that an individual violates a policy does not render the policy wrong. The Appellate Division affirmed. The plaintiff appealed the Appellate Division decision, contending that in determining employer liability for sexual harassment, the court was required to consider (1) whether the company had mandatory training for supervisors and managers which is offered to all members of the company; and (2) effective sensing or monitoring systems to check the trustworthiness of the prevention and remedial structures for employees. The court agreed with the plaintiff; even though the policy was known to many high-ranking officials, no action was taken to address the plaintiff’s complaints, even if they were not “formal” complaints. The court found that summary judgment was improper because there were questions of fact as to the adequacy of the policy.



Lehmann v. Toys R Us New Jersey Supreme Court (1993)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff was employed by defendant as a file clerk and subsequently promoted to supervisory positions. Sometime thereafter, defendant hired a new supervisor to the plaintiff. This supervisor started sexually harassing female employees, including plaintiff, through offensive sexual comments and touching. Although plaintiff immediately reported incidents to the supervisor’s boss, she was told to handle the matter herself. Upon continuing to bring incidents to the attention of the manager, plaintiff was told that she was being paranoid. Eventually plaintiff addresses the executive vice president, expressed that she felt she was being forced out of the company, and when she was offered an undesirable transfer as a solution, offered her resignation. The plaintiff sued the defendant for hostile work environment, arguing that its investigation into the harassment was inadequate. To bring a claim for hostile work environment, the plaintiff needed to show: (1) the conduct would not have occurred but for the employee’s gender; (2) the conduct was severe or pervasive enough to make a (3) reasonable woman believe (4) that the conditions of employment are altered and the working environment is hostile or abusive. The court found that even though the defendant had a written policy against sexual harassment, the manager did not keep any records about the investigation, did not document the investigation, and did not question key witnesses about events. The court found that this enabled a hostile work environment, and held the defendant liable.



Cesare v. Cesare New Jersey Supreme Court (1998)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Mrs. Cesare sought a restraining order against her husband under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act following an argument about ending their marriage. During this argument Mr. Cesare allegedly threatened Mrs. Cesare that she would never get custody of their children, and that he would never sell the house and share the proceeds. Prior to this argument, Mr. Cesare had threatened he would kill her, or “get someone else to do it very cheaply” before she got custody of their children or shared assets. Mr. Cesare was on medication for depression and kept three loaded guns in the house. Fearing for her safety, Mrs. Cesare took her children to the police that night. The superior court granted Mrs. Cesare a temporary restraining order despite there being no explicit threats to kill Mrs. Cesare that night, finding that under the totality of the circumstances, there was sufficient cause to issue the order based on the couple’s prior history, course of conduct, and the credibility of the different witnesses. The appellate division reversed the superior court’s holding and found that the trial court’s ruling constituted a “manifest denial of justice” and that Mr. Cesare’s conduct did not qualify as a terroristic threat, required under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(b). The court found the record lacked statements that were intended to put Mrs. Cesare in imminent fear of her life, and that the trial court should have used a reasonable person standard rather than a subjective one. The court of appeals in New Jersey reversed and found that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding. The court found that the Domestic Violence Act has broad legislative intent and that an appellate court should give a deferential standard of review to a trial court. The court noted that the Domestic Violence Act was “intended to ‘assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide’.”