United States: Aguas v. State Of New Jersey

In Ilda Aguas v. State of New Jersey,1  the New Jersey Supreme Court tackled two issues that were not "expressly decided" in Lehmann v. Toys 'R' Us, Inc., 132 N.J. 587 (1993), a seminal decision interpreting the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. §§ 10:5-1 et seq. (NJLAD).  Confronted with claims of sexual harassment by a corrections officer against her supervisors, the Court ruled on: (1) the effect of an employer's policy against harassment on claims for negligence, recklessness and vicarious liability; and (2) what factors make someone a "supervisor" in connection with a hostile work environment claim.  In doing so, the majority of the Court reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment, and its affirmance by the Appellate Division, and rendered a decision that should cause all employers to revisit their anti-harassment policies and supervisor structure.

Five years after she began working in the Department of Corrections in 2004, plaintiff Ilda Aguas (Aguas), a Senior Corrections Officer, claimed that she was verbally and physically sexually harassed by her supervisors on several occasions at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF).  Aguas verbally reported the incidents of harassment to different, higher ranking supervisors, including her Captain and Acting Chief.  But Aguas never filed a written complaint, as required by DOC policy.  Ultimately, the Department of Corrections' Equal Employment Division (EED) investigated Aguas' verbal complaints, and, after a six week investigation, advised Aguas in writing that her claims were "unsubstantiated."

Even before the results of the EED investigation were in, Aguas filed a civil lawsuit asserting claims against the State of New Jersey under the NJLAD for subjecting her to a hostile work environment and retaliating against her for reporting the harassment.  In response to these claims, the State interposed affirmative defenses including its existing policy against discrimination, the "prompt and remedial action it took" and the "thorough investigation" it made into Aguas' claims.  Aguas, p. 11.  The trial and appellate courts held that: (1) Aguas' negligence and recklessness claims under Restatement § 219(2)(b) were properly dismissed; (2) the DOC had "exercised due care" in its investigation of the claims; (3) the State prevailed on the affirmative defense that it had implemented anti-harassment policies; (4) Aguas' supervisor did not use his position to control her daily work activities to harass her and, as such, there was no vicarious liability under Restatement § 219(2)(d) and (5) Aguas' punitive damage claims should be dismissed. Aguas, p. 13.

The effect of the Supreme Court's reversal has at least three-fold implications for employers.  First, as to the negligence and recklessness claims, the Court determined that summary judgment should be vacated after considering five factors about the employer's practices as set forth in Gaines v. Bellino, 173 N.J. 301, 312-14 (2002):

(1) formal policies prohibiting harassment in the workplace; (2) complaint structures for employees' use, both formal and informal in the nature; (3) anti-harassment training, which must be mandatory for supervisors and managers, and must be available to all employees of the organization; (4) ... effective sensing or monitoring mechanisms to check trustworthiness of the policies and complaint structures; and (5) an unequivocal commitment from the highest levels of the employer that harassment would not be tolerated, and demonstration of that policy commitment by consistent practice.

Gaines, 173 N.J. at 313.  The Aguas Court directed that on remand "evidence of the State's anti-harassment policy" should be evaluated under the Gaines test. Aguas, p. 25.

Second, in connection with the vicarious liability claims, the Aguas Court addressed "the analytical framework under which an employer's anti-harassment policy may be considered in a hostile work environment involving a supervisor."  Aguas, p. 26.  The Court reviewed prior case law as to the viability of grounding an affirmative defense to vicarious liability on an employer having an "effective policy against sexual harassment" in place.  Aguas, p. 29.

In this analysis, the Aguas Court considered the United States Supreme Court's Ellerth/Faragher framework for dealing with agency principles in the context of claims for vicarious liability.  Ellerth/Faragher stand for the proposition that an employer can be found vicariously liable under a hostile work environment theory when that hostile environment is caused by the complaining employee's immediate (or higher) supervisor.  However, when "no tangible employment action is taken," the employer has a valid affirmative defense to a vicarious liability claim if it "exercised reasonable care" to stop and/or remedy sexual harassment and the employee did not avail herself of opportunities provided by the employer to avoid the alleged harm. Faragher 524 U.S. at 807.

Based on these principles, the Aguas Court adopted Ellerth/Faragher for cases of hostile work environment under the LAD as a result of sexual harassment by supervisors. The Court concluded that, because such an affirmative defense is not available to employers if there was "tangible" employment action taken against the employee or if the employer's anti-harassment policies are not "meaningful and effective," the potential availability of the affirmative defense is "powerful incentive for an employer" to enforce its policies renouncing any sexual harassment and provide anti-harassment training.  Aguas, p. 39.

Third, the Aguas Court fleshed out the meaning of "supervisor" in the context of Restatement § 219(2)(d) more precisely than in Toys 'R' Us.  In Toys 'R' Us, the Court considered a supervisor to include a wide range of managers, higher executives or both—beyond just those particular "supervisors" who set policy.  Drawing from EEOC guidance on harassment, the Aguas Court concluded that, for the purposes of vicarious liability claims under an agency theory, a "supervisor" is an employee both "granted authority to make tangible employment decisions" and "placed in charge of complainant's daily work activities."  Aguas, p. 47.  This standard is grounded in the notion that the "supervisor" designation for the purpose of harassment claims depends on the function, not the title, of the employee and the employee's ability, by virtue of his superior position, to impact the harassment. Aguas, p. 43.

Some twenty years after Toys 'R' Us, the Aguas Court has brightened the lines for New Jersey employers concerned with proactively preventing  harassment, remediating harassment that has occurred and avoiding liability for the misconduct by supervisory employees.  Aguas further underscores the need for employers to put clear, delineated anti-harassment policies in place, promulgate and enforce them and complement them with training for all employees, especially supervisors. 

Footnote

1 (A-35-13) (072467)(2/11/15)

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
22 Jan 2019, Seminar, San Francisco, United States

Dentons is pleased to offer a full day of classes, just in time for the California MCLE compliance period deadline of January 31, 2019.*

23 Jan 2019, Seminar, Los Angeles, United States

Dentons is pleased to offer a full day of classes, just in time for the California MCLE compliance period deadline of January 31, 2019.*

24 Jan 2019, Other, New York, United States

Join Dentons’ Health Care Partner Lori Mihalich-Levin and White Collar & Government Investigations Counsel Christine Genaitis as they lead conference sessions at AHLA Academic Medical Centers and Teaching Hospitals Institute.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions