New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton
New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton ()

A committee of the New Jersey Legislature on Thursday recommended passage of a bill that would codify the state Supreme Court’s holding that the two-year statute of limitations for filing racial discrimination claims cannot be shortened in employment contracts or agreements.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved the bill, A-4173, sponsored by Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, D-Bergen, in a 3-1 vote.

Caride is a litigator with Gonzalez & Caride in Union City.

Last June, in a unanimous ruling in Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture, the court said an employment agreement created by the company—barring employees’ Law Against Discrimination claims filed beyond six months—violated the state’s long-standing public policy of eradicating discrimination in the workplace.

The defendant company does business as Raymour & Flanigan.

Caride’s bill would amend the LAD to prohibit an employer from requiring an employee or prospective employee to waive his or her rights under the law as a condition of employment, continued employment or continued compensation.

Caride said she introduced the bill in order to ensure that there is no confusion that the LAD has a two-year statute of limitations. “There should be no more issue about” the statute of limitations, she said.

“An employee should not be threatened into waiving his or her rights to a job, and an employer should not take advantage” of its power, Caride said when she introduced the bill in September.

In Rodriguez, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia noted that the LAD has been amended numerous times, but not to reduce its anti-discrimination enforcement goals.

“A shortened time frame for initiating legal action or losing that ability hampers enforcement of the public interest,” LaVecchia said.

“[T]he contractual shortening of the LAD’s two-year limitations period for a private action is contrary to the public policy expressed” in the LAD, LaVecchia added.

In the lawsuit, plaintiff Sergio Rodriguez filed his discrimination suit nine months after he was fired by Raymours. Both a trial judge and the Appellate Division ruled that the lawsuit was time-barred, even though state law allows two years for such causes of action.

According to court documents, the statute of limitations waiver was set forth in the two-page application Rodriguez took home and filled out in 2007, when he was hired to help with deliveries.

It stated in capital letters: “I agree that any claim or lawsuit relating to my service with Raymour & Flanigan must be filed no more than six (6) months after the date of the employment action that is the subject of the claim or lawsuit. I waive any statute of limitations to the contrary.”

Rodriguez, who was born in Argentina, claimed he had a limited ability to read or speak English, so a friend helped with the application, reading him the parts that had to be filled out, but not the waiver.

After being promoted to driver, Rodriguez was laid off as part of a reduction in force that took 100 other workers off the payroll. The layoff occurred three days after he returned to full duty following a medical leave, and then light duty, as the result of a torn meniscus that required surgery.

Raymours claimed he was chosen for the layoff because of substandard job performance.

Morris County Superior Court Judge Donald Coburn dismissed the case on summary judgment based on the application’s waiver in 2014. The Appellate Division affirmed Coburn’s ruling.

LaVecchia said the Legislature had given its “tacit approval” of the court’s 1993 decision in Montells v. Haynes, which said claims made under the LAD had the same two-year statute of limitations as personal injury claims.

Caride previously said lawmakers should act affirmatively in codifying the two rulings, rather than just give “tacit approval” of court rulings.

The New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, a tort reform group, opposed the bill, saying it would run afoul of the public policy goals favoring arbitration, although arbitration is not mentioned in the bill.

The bill must still pass the full Assembly and be considered by the Senate and Gov. Chris Christie if it is to be enacted.

Contact the reporter at mbooth@alm.com.