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Lehmann v. Toys 'R' Us

Supreme Court of New Jersey

February 1, 1993, Argued ; July 14, 1993, Decided

A-76/79 September Term 1992

Opinion

 [*592]  [**448]   This appeal presents this Court with two questions [***2]  concerning hostile work environment sexual harassment claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42 (LAD). First, what are the standards for stating a cause of action for hostile work environment sex discrimination claims? Second, what is the scope of an employer's liability for a supervisor's sexual harassment that results in creating a hostile work environment? We hold that a plaintiff states a cause of action for hostile work environment sexual harassment when he or she alleges discriminatory conduct that a reasonable person of the same sex in the plaintiff's position would consider sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

We further hold that in the determination of an employer's liability for damages when an employee raises a hostile work environment discrimination claim against a supervisor: (1) an employer will be strictly liable for equitable damages and relief; (2) an employer may be vicariously liable under agency principles for compensatory damages that exceed equitable relief; and (3) an employer will not be liable for punitive [***3]  damages unless the harassment was authorized, participated in, or ratified by the employer.

 [*593]  I.

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff, Theresa Lehmann, brought a civil action in the Law Division against her former employer, Toys 'R' Us, Inc. (Toys 'R' Us); her former supervisor, Don Baylous; and Jeffrey Wells, a human resources manager at Toys 'R' Us. Plaintiff's principal allegations were that defendants subjected her to a hostile work environment on the basis of her sex in violation of the LAD. She asserted that sexual harassment perpetrated and condoned by the defendants had caused her to suffer damages including loss of wages and pension benefits, anxiety, detriment to her health, medical expenses, humiliation, and pain and suffering, and also that she had been required to expend attorneys' fees and to incur other litigation costs. She also alleged various other claims, separate from her LAD claims, including battery, negligence, intentional interference with contractual relations, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

After a six-day bench trial, the trial court dismissed all of plaintiff's causes of action against defendants except her battery claim against [***4]  Baylous, for which it awarded her $ 5,000 as damages.

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132 N.J. 587 *; 626 A.2d 445 **; 1993 N.J. LEXIS 712 ***; 63 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 241; 64 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P43,016

THERESA LEHMANN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AND CROSS-RESPONDENT, v. TOYS 'R' US, INC., A CORPORATION, DON BAYLOUS, AND JEFFREY WELLS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS AND CROSS-APPELLANTS

Prior History:  [***1]  On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 255 N.J. Super. 616 (1992).

CORE TERMS

sexual harassment, harassment, hostile work environment, hostile, sexual, cases, sex, workplace, severe, pervasive, woman, employees, work environment, working environment, courts, punitive damages, employer liability, harassing conduct, allegations, agency principles, effective, equitable, comments, damages, female, cause of action, intimidating, touchings, female employee, supervisory

Business & Corporate Compliance, Discrimination, Labor & Employment Law, Discrimination, Gender & Sex Discrimination, Federal & State Interrelationships, Labor & Employment Law, General Overview, Scope & Definitions, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Employment Practices, Demotions & Promotions, Hostile Work Environment, Quid Pro Quo, Criminal Law & Procedure, Crimes Against Persons, Coercion & Harassment, Elements, Sexual Harassment, Employer Liability, Burdens of Proof, Standards of Proof, Pervasive & Severe Standards, Same-Sex Harassment, Sexual Orientation, Employee Burdens of Proof, Title VII Discrimination, Remedies, Damages, Compensatory Damages, Punitive Damages, Torts, Types of Damages, Compensatory Damages, Defenses, Antiharassment Policy, Objective & Subjective Standards, Backpay, Harassment by Supervisors, Compensation Discrepancies, Discharges & Failures to Hire, Frontpay, Wrongful Termination, Reinstatement, Employers, Activities & Conditions, Civil Rights Violations, Vicarious Liability, Correction & Prevention, Agency Relationships, Negligence, Punitive Damages, Availability, Employers, Civil Procedure