Breastfeeding Mother Wins $195,000 Settlement from New Jersey-Based Manufacturer

A former corporate marketing director for a North Bergen, New Jersey-based manufacturer and bedding importer will receive $195,000 in compensation after the Division on Civil Rights determined that she had been the victim of violations of both the New Jersey Family Leave Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

The woman’s claim was filed after she was terminated in October of 2018, but her situation had started months earlier, after she had given birth to her daughter. She had initially taken maternity leave from her job with VCNY Home under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She then asked to take an additional 12 weeks to care and bond with her infant under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), but in response VCNY told her that the time she had taken under FMLA ran concurrently with the time allowed under NJFLA and that if she did not return to work it would be viewed as a resignation.

The company’s position was not correct. New Jersey law explicitly states that when an employee gives birth and first uses federal FMLA leave time to recover from childbirth, it does not exhaust the additional time available for bonding under New Jersey’s Family Leave Act. The state leave becomes available after the end of the federal leave. Still, under threat of termination if she did not return to work, the employee opted out of taking the time to which she was entitled.

Upon her return, the employee found herself the target of harassment and retaliatory behavior. She was excluded from projects and meetings, subjected to demeaning and inappropriate jokes and a workplace security camera pointed directly at her workstation, and stripped of some of her job responsibilities. Finally, she was ordered to take a two-week business trip abroad despite explaining that she was exclusively breastfeeding her infant and providing a physician’s note supporting her request for an accommodation. Rather than accommodate her request, the company fired her and told that it was because she was unable or unwilling to perform an essential job function.

Following her termination, the woman filed a complaint citing NJFLA interference, illegal denial of reasonable accommodation relating to breastfeeding, and retaliation, as well as a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. In resolving the case and announcing the terms of the settlement that VCNY had to pay, the Division of Civil Rights Deputy Director Rosemary DiSavino explained that, “New Jersey law provides strong protections to persons who are pregnant or who are new parents. Those protections include accommodations for bonding, breastfeeding, job-protected leave, and a prohibition against retaliation for parents who exercise those rights.”

In addition to having to pay the $195,000 settlement, VCNY is also required to review and (where necessary) revise its pregnancy leave and accommodation policies; to provide anti-discrimination training to all human resources employees who handle and process pregnancy and accommodation requests as well as to all VCNY supervisors, managers , and owners; and to report to DCR each year for the next three years regarding any pregnancy-related leave requests it receives, as well as any pregnancy-related or breastfeeding-related accommodation requests and any internal or public agency complaints filed against it by employees regarding pregnancy discrimination or failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Regarding the resolution of the case, Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said, “In New Jersey, we are committed to protecting the right of workers to have both a job and a family. No one should be forced to choose between having children and earning a living. Today’s settlement should serve as a reminder to employers to take their workers’ rights seriously, and that we will continue to take action to ensure those rights are protected.”

If you believe that your rights as a New Jersey employee have been violated, we are here to help. Contact our employment discrimination law firm today to discuss your case and learn about your options.

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