N.J. High Court Holds Statute of Limitations for Discrimination Claims Cannot Be Shortened by Contract
Despite the court’s general recognition of a private right to contract, in June 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a provision of a contract shortening the two-year limitations period for bringing a claim under the Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) was unconscionable.
In Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Co., Inc., 2016 WL 3263896 (N.J. June 15, 2016), Plaintiff
Sergio Rodriguez applied for a job with the Defendant Raymours Furniture Company. The employment application he signed contained a provision that stated, “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, a native of Argentina and not proficient in English, claimed he did not understand what he was signing, nor did he understand the terms “waive” or “statute of limitations.”
When Rodriguez was laid off from his job, he filed a complaint alleging employment discrimination. The complaint was filed before the two-year limitations period, but after the six-month period stated in the contract. The lower courts found the terms in the application to be clear, concise and not contrary to public policy, and enforced the contract. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision, rendering the contract unconscionable. The Court determined that enforcing these kinds of provisions would undermine the integrity of the LAD statute, effectively eliminating claims, and might compel an attorney to file a premature LAD action. The Supreme Court felt their decision was in the interest of public policy, and would further the “public imperative of eradicating discrimination.”