We’re well aware that today will likely be a slow news day. You’re probably only thinking about that brilliant April Fool’s Day prank (quick reminder to PLEASE be careful and not do anything that would require an employment law attorney) . . . and certainly not anything that has to do with a word that sounds like “mishmightment”. So why not take a quick break and read up on the latest employment law updates! This edition discusses New Jersey’s proposed anti-SLAPP law (as cool as it sounds), whether someone can be found liable for libel (say that five times fast) related to comments made on Glassdoor, and the EEOC’s latest fine increase for poster violations. But first up, a trip to the Second Circuit and a case study on religious discrimination claims in the workplace.
Second Circuit Rejects Employee’s Religious Discrimination Claim After Refusing to Attend Anti-Discrimination Training
The Second Circuit recently issued a decision rejecting an employee’s claim of religious discrimination after he was fired from his job at a New York state public school for refusing to attend mandatory anti-discrimination training under the Dignity for All Students Act. The employee claimed that attending the training, specifically as it related to LGBTQ+ issues, went against his religious beliefs. The court found no evidence that the employee was fired based on discriminatory intent or malice and no evidence that the employer or any employees made any religion-related comments to him. Importantly, the court noted that if the employer were to grant the employee’s requested accommodation (skipping the training), then the employer would open itself up to liability for violating New York laws requiring annual discrimination and harassment training (reminder to schedule those trainings, folks . . .).
This case combined two commonly seen arguments in wrongful termination cases: discriminatory intent and failure to accommodate. Ultimately, the employer was saved because the employee was unable to present any evidence of discrimination, and requesting that your employer cease mandatory trainings and expose themselves to heightened liability is not exactly a winning argument. With that said, these cases, particularly the accommodation ones, are much more nuanced. Employers: if your employee requests a religious, medical, or other accommodation, and you’re not sure if it’s “reasonable”, it’s best you check with an expert before making your next move.
New Jersey Introduces Anti-SLAPP Bill
New Jersey has now introduced its own anti-SLAPP law, following in the footsteps of the majority of states. “SLAPP” stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”. These laws are meant to protect individuals who speak up (whether by filing a suit or speaking in a public forum) from frivolous retaliatory lawsuits, such as a defamation lawsuit against an individual who has publicly accused another of sexual harassment (anti-SLAPP suits were frequently used against people like Harvey Weinstein in response to Weinstein’s defamation lawsuits). Remedies vary by state, but anti-SLAPP laws typically provide a host of remedies for violations, including reimbursement of attorneys’ fees, and can be quite powerful. We’ll be closely monitoring this development, as it will definitely have an impact on the filing of certain lawsuits. And speaking of defamation lawsuits . . .
New Jersey Court Dismisses Employer’s Glassdoor Libel Suit
It’s a tale as old as time. Company meets applicant. Applicant accepts offer of employment. Company later fires applicant. Company all of a sudden sees “anonymous” reviews on Glassdoor claiming Company “has an astronomically high turnover rate” and the owner is the problem. Company sues applicant, now a former employee, for defamation.
Well – a New Jersey court recently dismissed a lawsuit filed by an employer against a former employee for posting libelous reviews of the employer on Glassdoor. The court found that the former employee’s comments about high turnover, lack of acknowledgment of employees’ skills and work ethic, and the accusation that the employer acted in bad faith by trying to concoct a false reason to fire the former employee were just rhetorical hyperbole and non-verifiable statements of opinion. The court found that the “impression” of those words on a “reasonable person” should be taken into account, and even if the statements were false, they would not tend to harm the employer’s reputation because a reasonable person would think that the statements were just exaggerations made by a disgruntled employee.
One takeaway here is that exaggerated statements and opinions posted on Glassdoor, even if they are false, won’t automatically be deemed defamatory. Another takeaway is that having effective HR policies and practices does wonders for creating an improved work culture and reducing those scathing “anonymous” complaints. In any event, be careful what you post online!
EEOC Increases Fine for Poster Violations
The EEOC recently announced that it has increased the maximum fine for employers who fail to post required anti-discrimination posters from $612 to $659 (inflation, amirite?). As a refresher, EEOC posters must be placed in a conspicuous location where such notices are generally posted, and, if any workers are remote, must be circulated electronically. There are also certain non-EEOC notices that are specific to your state and city. And, as you may recall, the EEOC updated its “Know Your Rights” poster back in October. If you didn’t know that the EEOC imposes fines for employers who fail to post required anti-discrimination posters, well, now you know. But, if this is the first time you’re hearing about mandatory posters and notices generally, you should probably talk to your employment lawyers about that.
And with that, we’re sad to say that this will be our last newsletter, folks. ChatGPT will be ghost writing these in our place, and we can only hope our future robot overlord is as funny and punny as we are . . .
April Fools! You should know by now that we’d never leave you hanging like that (we’d also never disparage our future robot overlord like that), but as always, if you’ve got questions, you know we (and ChatGPT) have answers.