The State of New Jersey continues to expand protections afforded under the Law Against Discrimination.

Once again, New Jersey has broadened the scope and reach of the Law Against Discrimination (LAD). Governor Phil Murphy signed into law an amendment to the LAD on January 21, 2020, which became effective immediately and expands the LAD’s coverage and enhances the state’s enforcement powers.

Expanded Protection

Prior to the recent amendment, the LAD provided protection against discrimination to individuals based on their spouses’ membership in a protected class. The term “family member” has since replaced the term “spouse.” As amended, the LAD prohibits discrimination against an individual because of a protected characteristic of that individual’s family member. Family member is defined broadly and includes a “child, parent, parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, spouse, partner in a civil union couple, domestic partner, or any other individual related by blood to the person, and any other individual that the person shows to have a close association with the person which is the equivalent of a family relationship.” This definition of family member expands the scope of protection afforded under the LAD.

Enhancement of Enforcement Powers

The recent amendment to the LAD reaffirms and clarifies the authority of the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, the Director of the Division on Civil Rights, the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Commissioner of Education to initiate litigation in the Superior Court on behalf of individuals for violations of the LAD. These designated government officials are authorized to initiate legal actions for LAD violations, even if no individual plaintiff has filed suit. If successful, the government may recover all remedies available in common law tort actions, as well as those provided by the LAD or any other statute, including injunctive relief, compensatory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs. The Attorney General or the Director of the Division on Civil Rights can also seek the imposition of penalties from the Superior Court or in lieu of such penalties, punitive damages payable to the State of New Jersey.

Senator Teresa Ruiz, a sponsor of the bill, stated that the inspiration for this amendment came when members of the legislature discovered that a New Jersey town, Pine Valley, only allowed men to purchase real estate. Pine Valley is home to the Pine Valley Golf Club, a prestigious country club that is exclusively open to men and only allows women to play golf on Sundays. To be eligible to purchase a home in Pine Valley, a buyer had to be a member of the club. Since women cannot be members of Pine Valley Golf Club, they cannot purchase homes in the town. The expanse of the LAD's enforcement authority now gives the Attorney General and/or the Director of the Division on Civil Rights the power to initiate litigation in the Superior Court against persons, entities, employers and municipalities, like Pine Valley, who engage in discriminatory practices related to employment, public accommodations, land use or housing.

What This Means for New Jersey Employers

The State of New Jersey continues to expand protections afforded under the LAD. New Jersey employers should review their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the LAD, which now covers the right of employees to be free from discrimination based on the protected status of their family members. Employers should also update their anti-harassment, anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation training modules to include all protections afforded by the LAD.