ROCKAWAY, NJ (Morris County) – A New Jersey dermatology practice has paid a former employee $150,000 to resolve allegations it unlawfully discriminated by firing the woman for “job abandonment” after she went out on maternity leave, Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division on Civil Rights announced Wednesday.
In addition to paying the ex-employee to settle allegations that it wrongly fired her, the North Jersey Dermatology Center is required under a recently-finalized settlement to arrange anti-discrimination training for all employees, review and revise its Leave of Absence Policy to ensure compliance with New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and Family Leave Act (FLA), and undertake additional reforms.
“This case involves an important issue – one that matters not only to women in the workforce, but to entire families and to employers as well,” said Attorney General Porrino. “The fact is that our state and federal laws protect pregnancy, and employers need to make certain their policies as well as their handling of situations involving pregnant workers — reflect a clear understanding of employee rights under those laws.”
North Jersey Dermatology operates multiple locations in northern New Jersey, including one in Rockaway, Morris County, where the former employee who became pregnant was hired as a Certified Physician’s Assistant in April 2011. The Division is withholding the ex-employee’s name to protect her medical privacy.
According to the woman’s original complaint filed with the Division on Civil Rights, tensions began when she informed her employer she was pregnant and would need to begin maternity leave on Sept. 15, 2015. The employer purportedly asked her to stay on a few additional days, and expressed dissatisfaction when she declined, claiming that her doctor had actually advised her to begin leave sooner.
The complainant underwent Cesarean section delivery in early October 2015. She was out on disability leave for the better part of two months, and subsequently was declared eligible by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to receive Family Leave Insurance benefits to allow bonding time with her newborn.
In her complaint, the woman noted that North Jersey Dermatology did not appeal the State’s determination she was eligible for benefits, and therefore did not appear to oppose or dispute her continued, pregnancy-related absence from work or her eligibility for coverage under New Jersey FLA. The complaint also alleged that North Jersey Dermatology failed to provide any guidance about her State and federal rights regarding her leave of absence, although it was the company’s responsibility to do so.
In early December 2015, a fellow North Jersey Dermatology employee visited the woman’s home to pick up a credentialing document. The visitor asked when she intended to return to work, and the woman advised her co-worker she planned to return after the New Year.
According to her complaint, the woman subsequently tried multiple times by telephone and text message to reach her employer to discuss her return to work, but her messages went unanswered.
She alleged that on Feb. 11, 2016, two full weeks after her first attempt to contact her office, the chief operating officer called. Accompanied by two unidentified persons on the line, he allegedly told the woman she was being dismissed for job abandonment because she’d failed to report on her status at any time during her leave of absence.
“Two separate New Jersey statutes were implicated here,” said Division Director Craig T. Sashihara. “One requires covered employers to grant eligible employees time off from work in connection with the birth or adoption of a child. The second requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for medical issues related to childbirth and prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy. We’re committed to ensuring that employers understand and adhere to both laws.”
North Jersey Dermatology has denied the allegations made by its former employee, and under the agreement announced today makes no admission of wrongdoing.
Under the settlement, North Jersey Dermatology is prohibited from automatically referring to employees who take a leave of absence based on pregnancy or for medical purposes as being engaged in an “end of employment” separation or a “reduction in work hours, ” which appeared to affect an employee’s insurance coverage.
The company also must review and revise, as necessary, its Leave of Absence Policy to ensure compliance with New Jersey’s LAD and FLA, and then submit the policy to the Division for review prior to distribution.
In addition, North Jersey Dermatology must arrange anti-discrimination training for all of its employees, have the training content and related materials reviewed by the Division, and obtain signatures from every worker certifying that they received and understood the training.
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