NJ Supreme Courts Hands Older Workers a Victory

Most of us these days are familiar with the term “age discrimination” and understand that employment laws exist to protect older workers from discrimination or harassment at their place of employment based on their age. However, there is a section of the Law Against Discrimination that specifically gives employers the right to not hire or promote individuals over the age of 70. This is often referred to as the Over-70 Exception. Thus, a New Jersey employer can refuse to hire or promote an individual who is over 70 years old on the basis of that individual’s age without running afoul of LAD.

Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court, in Nini v. Mercer County Community College, was called upon to decide whether the Over-70 Exception applied to an employer’s failure to renew a contract, as opposed to a failure to hire or promote. The defendant in this case argued that if the law permitted it to not hire Ms. Nini, then surely the law would permit it to not renew her contract, either. The Supreme Court disagreed with this argument, however.

The Court ruled in favor of older workers throughout New Jersey by limiting the Over-70 Exception to the two exceptions noted in the statute. According to the Court, the legislature only provided a safe harbor to employers for new hires, not employees who were currently employed, whether by contract or otherwise. This important decision means that all New Jersey employees over age 70 who currently hold positions cannot be fired for age-related reasons.