New Jersey Supreme Court Protects Workers from Discrimination Based on Divorce

Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling that prohibits New Jersey employers from retaliating against workers who are separated, considering divorce, or currently engaged in the divorce process. The court found that New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination protects workers from discriminatory employment practices resulting from their relationship status.

The aforementioned ruling stems from a case involving Robert Smith, a long-term employee of the Millville Rescue Squad, who accused his employer of firing him after he disclosed that he was divorcing. According to Smith, after telling his superior that he was separated and planning to divorce, he was told that he was being fired because his divorce was going to get “ugly.”

Smith was employed with the Millville Rescue Squad for 17 years prior to his alleged wrongful termination. The squad’s board of directors cited poor work performance as grounds for his termination. However, Smith claimed that the firing constituted discrimination resulting from his current relationship status.

After the initial filing, a trial judge dismissed Smith’s complaint, stating that Smith failed to present sufficient evidence of employment discrimination. The Appellate Division subsequently reinstated the claim, after which it was heard by New Jersey’s highest court. In their landmark ruling, the NJ Supreme Court stated:

“We hold…that marital status is not limited to the state of being single or married. Rather, the [Law Against Discrimination] protects all employees who have declared that they will marry, have separated from their spouse, have initiated divorce proceedings, or have obtained a divorce from discrimination in the workplace.”

As far as the language of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (N.J.S.A. 10:5-1), it prohibits employment discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, familial status, sex or sexual orientation, atypical cellular or blood trait, generic information, or service in the armed forces. With this ruling, the NJ Supreme Court extended the application of marital status to include transitional relationships that fall outside of the traditional classifications of “single” and “married.” The court went on to say:

“The LAD prohibits an employer from imposing conditions of employment that have no relationship to the task assigned to and expected of an employee,” Cuff said. “It also prohibits an employer from resorting to stereotypes to discipline, block for advancement, or terminate an employee due to a life decision, such as deciding to marry or divorce.”

In essence, New Jersey employers are not allowed to utilize personal circumstances against workers. Divorce is difficult enough for those involved in the process and these individuals should not be subject to further difficulties imposed by their employers. If you were fired or demoted and you suspect that this decision was based on some form of prejudice or assumption, you may have grounds to pursue an employment lawsuit.

At The Montanari Law Group, our legal team includes specialists in divorce and employment law. Our approach is simple: provide unparalleled representation for all legal challenges facing our clients and when appropriate, utilize our diverse experience to tackle multi-faceted issues that may require specialized knowledge in multiple practice areas. If you are currently involved in a legal matter and seeking answers, contact our Little Falls offices today at 973-233-4396 to discuss your options. One of our highly knowledgeable attorneys will be happy to provide you with a cost-free consultation.

For additional information pertaining to this issue, access the following article: High Court Warns Against Workplace Retaliation for Divorce


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