NJ Court Discusses Collateral Estoppel in Employment Discrimination Cases

While the law provides a right to seek damages due to employment discrimination, a plaintiff does not have a right to endlessly seek retribution. Rather, the doctrine of collateral estoppel, which has been adopted by New Jersey, only allows a plaintiff “one bite of the apple,” or one chance to pursue a claim. Collateral estoppel only precludes claims in certain circumstances, however.

The Superior Court of New Jersey recently analyzed the factors for precluding a claim under collateral estoppel in a case in which it ruled that the plaintiff’s employment claim was not barred by her previous employment-related proceedings in front of an administrative law judge.  If you faced adverse employment action that you believe was due to racial bias or age discrimination, it is in your best interest to consult a skilled  New Jersey employment discrimination attorney to analyze the facts of your case and whether you may be able to pursue a claim against your former employer.

The Plaintiff’s Employment

Allegedly, the plaintiff was terminated from her position at the defendant’s correctional facility due to an inappropriate relationship with an inmate. She appealed her termination and had a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge, during which she testified that her supervisor used racial slurs and did not like people of color.  She then appealed to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) who recommended her termination due to the nature of her relationship with the inmate. The Superior Court of New Jersey subsequently affirmed the CSC’s determination that the plaintiff’s termination was appropriate.

Reportedly, within two years of her termination, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant employer, alleging her termination was based on gender and race discrimination, alleging a hostile work environment and that her supervisor instituted and internal investigation against her motivated by racial bias. The defendant subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment arguing, in part, that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by collateral estoppel due to the adjudication of her prior administrative proceedings. The trial court granted the motion after which the plaintiff appealed.

Collateral Estoppel

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in finding that her discrimination claims were barred by collateral estoppel. The trial court held that the plaintiff’s claims were identical to the issues raised in the administrative proceeding and allegations that the plaintiff’s supervisor acted inappropriately were already litigated. The court disagreed. The court explained that a party seeking to preclude a claim under collateral estoppel must show that: the issue is the same as an issue decided in a prior action; the issue was actually litigated; the court in the prior proceeding issued a final judgment on the merits; and the party seeking to pursue the claim was a party in the prior proceeding.

The court stated that in cases involving public employee disciplinary actions if an employee raises a discrimination claim he or she must be prepared for the potential preclusive effect of any decision in the proceeding on future employment discrimination litigation.  Here, the court noted that while the plaintiff argued in the administrative proceeding that her supervisor’s actions against her were racially motivated, it was never determined by the administrative law judge or anyone in the process whether the plaintiff was discriminated against based on her race or gender. As such, the court found that the trial court erred in ruling that the plaintiff’s discrimination claims were barred by collateral estoppel.

Retain a Skilled New Jersey Employment Discrimination Attorney

If you were terminated or faced adverse employment actions due to discriminatory reasons, you should retain a skilled employment discrimination attorney to assist you in your pursuit of damages. The New Jersey employment discrimination attorneys of the Jaffe Glenn Law Group will tirelessly pursue a favorable outcome on your behalf. You can contact us at 201-687-9977 or through our online form to set up a free and confidential conference.

More Blog Posts:

Court Finds Sufficient Evidence of Pretext in New Jersey Discrimination Case, January 24, 2019, New Jersey and New York Employment Lawyer Blog

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