A recent New Jersey Appellate Division decision provides helpful guidance to New Jersey employers seeking to shorten the time employees have to file lawsuits.
In Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Company, Inc., 436 N.J. Super. 305 (App. Div. 2014), the court upheld a carefully worded and prominently displayed provision in an employment application that reduced the statute of limitations of applicable claims against the employer from two years to six months.
In applying for a position with Raymour & Flanigan, the Plaintiff completed a two page employment application. Near the bottom of the second page of the application, there was an "Applicant's Statement" immediately above the signature line that instructed the applicant to "READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING." Among other things, the "Applicant's Statement" contained the following waiver in capital letters:
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.
The Plaintiff was laid off as part of a company-wide reduction-in-force three days after returning to work on full duty from a leave of absence due to an on-the-job injury. Approximately nine months later, the Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that he was terminated because of his alleged disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. The court dismissed the Plaintiff's suit, which was filed within the applicable 2-year statute of limitation applicable to those claims.
The Court's Decision:
After examining the totality of the application language and the totality of the circumstances surrounding the Plaintiff's termination, the court held that the language limiting the applicable statute of limitations to six months was enforceable. In so ruling, the court noted that the waiver language was:
- Set forth conspicuously; and
- The Plaintiff was not pressured to complete and sign the application quickly.
Moreover, the court held that six months was not unreasonably short for the Plaintiff to sue for discrimination under state law. Most federal employment claims, however, are not likely to be impacted by this decision.