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Political Retaliation

New Jersey’s political retaliation attorneys at Lenzo & Reis understand how financially and emotionally devasting workplace retaliation can be.

Section 1983 of the federal law known as the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1, make clear that firing government workers, who are not policy makers, because of their political affiliation is unlawful retaliation. Specifically, it constitutes illegal political retaliation under Section 1983 for any person, acting “under color” of law, to deprive any other person of their constitutionally-protected rights and/or privileges. Given that Section 1983 is a federal law, the ability to file suit for such violations was limited to violations of the federal constitution. Finally, in 2014, New Jersey passed the Civil Rights Act giving its residents the right to file suit if their rights or privileges under our state constitution were violated under color of state law. In the employment context, that means that government employers cannot illegally retaliate against their employees or independent contractors for their political actions or affiliation, and/or lack thereof.

What Do the Laws That Protect Against Political Retaliation Prohibit?

Section 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act make it clear that government employees cannot be forced to support particular political candidates or parties. They also cannot be forced to join or support a political party. It makes sense then that public employees cannot be retaliated against for supporting any particular party or candidate. Similarly, they cannot be retaliated against for remaining apolitical – meaning that they do not support any party or candidate and/or have no political leaning or preference at all.

What Does Political Retaliation Look Like?

Unlawful political retaliation often happens when a public employee is told to support a particular political party and is punished for refusing or failing to do so. Another example of political retaliation is when a government employee is retaliated against for not supporting any candidate or supporting the losing candidate or party in an election. The most common type of political retaliation suffered by government employees is that they are fired. However, political retaliation takes other forms and generally involves being subjected to adverse action, which means things like being demoted, being denied promotions, having your hours or pay cut, or being given an unwanted transfer of either job duties or to an undesirable assignment or location. In 2016, in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, the Supreme Court of the United States made clear that a government employer who takes an adverse job action against an employee with the purpose of creating a job opening for a political supporter may be engaging in unlawful political retaliation. Even in the absence of an adverse job action, however, you may have a claim for political retaliation if you are treated poorly enough as long as the conduct is either pervasive, meaning that it happens frequently, or severe so that it alters the terms and conditions of employment. That is what is generally meant by a hostile work environment.

How Do You Prove Political Retaliation?

To establish a claim of political retaliation in New Jersey, you must show that (1) you were employed at a public agency in a non-policy-making position, (2) engaged in conduct protected by the Constitution, and (3) the protected conduct was a motivating factor in the government’s decision affecting the plaintiff’s employment. While many believe that proving the existence of retaliation on the basis of political affiliation or support is impossible, the New Jersey political retaliation lawyers at Lenzo & Reis have the expertise and knowledge to find and piece together evidence of such retaliation in a convincing manner.

Can I Have a Claim for Political Retaliation Even If My Employer Thinks I Supported an Opposing Political Party Even Though I Didn’t Actually Do so?

You may because in 2017, in Lapolla v. County of Union, our courts recognized that a public employer engages in unlawful retaliation if it takes some action against an employee believing that the employee engaged in protected political activity even if the employer’s belief was wrong.

What Should I Do If I Was or am Being Retaliated Against Because of My Political Affiliation?

If you are being or have been retaliated against because of your political support and/or political actions, you should immediately contact the political retaliation attorneys at Lenzo & Reis at (973) 845-9922 to discuss the most successful approach to resolving the retaliation to which you are being subjected. Christopher Lenzo and Claudia Reis have successfully represented countless public employees throughout the State of New Jersey and are waiting to turn your retaliation into your success. If you prefer, you can complete this online form instead of calling our office, and someone from our New Jersey political retaliation attorneys’ office will contact you shortly.

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