A federal judge has ruled that a Haitian-American former employee of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority can pursue a hostile work environment claim.
But U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson, sitting in Trenton, also knocked out plaintiff Lude Jasmin’s claims lodged under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in her July 30 ruling, in part because of sovereign immunity.
“Arms of the state—including agencies, departments, and officials—are entitled to immunity,” and plaintiffs cannot file NJLAD allegations against a state body in federal court, Wolfson said.
Still, Jasmin is a member of a protected class, Wolfson said. “As such, I find plaintiff has met her pleading requirements” to pursue a federal civil rights claim under Title VII, she wrote.
Jasmin was employed as a compliance officer with the EDA in January 2014. The decision does not say when she started, but did note that she previously had been an EDA contractor. Her job at the EDA was to evaluate and expedite claims from Superstorm Sandy victims, according to the court.
In her lawsuit, Jasmin, claiming she was the ”only black person” in the office, alleges that her work was often ignored or that her partner received credit for work they did together. Jasmin said she believed the actions were taken to justify poor performance reports.
Jasmin also alleges that work was withheld from her, that her work was erased from the EDA’s computer system, and that she was forced to use computer screenshots to prove that she had performed tasks. When it became public knowledge that she was taking screenshots, erasures of her work ceased, the lawsuit said.
At one point, her supervisor, who had been sympathetic, left, and the supervisor’s replacement sent Jasmin a text that said, “Now you’re my n—–,” the lawsuit claims.
“Here, plaintiff does not allege that the text message came from a coworker; rather, the message was allegedly sent by a supervisor,” Wolfson noted.
“Title VII prohibits discriminatory conduct that is ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the condition of the victim’s employment and create an abusive work environment,’” Wolfson wrote, quoting from case law.
Jasmin is represented by Clifford Stewart of the Newark law office of Gregory Stewart. He did not return a call about the ruling.
The Attorney General’s Office, which represents the EDA, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.