Want to scare your organization's supervisors into complying with your employment policies? Point out that, under New Jersey law, they can be sued personally for their discriminatory actions. That means one on-the-job misstep can cost managers their homes, savings accounts and other personal assets to satisfy a court judgment.
Federal law doesn't allow such personal liability under Title VII discrimination claims. But state law—the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD)—says job-bias suits can target a supervisor's personal assets.
What's the likelihood that an employee's lawyer would add your supervisors (or you!) to a lawsuit? Very high, since it adds a certain psychological advantage. Plus, if the lawyer thinks your employer may be going out of business or can't pay a large judgment, he has to hedge his bets. In New Jersey, you're the hedge.
The only way to defend personal liability is to avoid lawsuits in the first place. Make sure you and your supervisors understand and comply with the law. Explain personal liability during training. And always document your decision-making processes.
Recent case: Sharon Davis, a black police officer in Newark, frequently complained that her supervisors treated her differently based on her race.
Higher-ranking officers, she said, had accused her of theft and insubordination (charges that were later dismissed). When Davis took a day off during her pregnancy, two officers and a doctor showed up at her door to make sure she was sick. That's when she sued them all under the NJLAD, both personally and for their actions on behalf of the city.
The federal court allowed the suit to go forward, saying supervisors who "aid and abet" an employer's unlawful actions can be liable, as well as anyone who "takes reprisals against another" because that person opposes discriminatory practices under the NJLAD. (Davis v. City of Newark, et al., No. 04-5317, DC NJ, 2006)