Marital Status Included Among Employee Characteristics Protected by LAD

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently held that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) protects employees who are separated from his/her spouse and/or in the process of divorcing.

In Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, plaintiff and his wife were employed by the Squad. Plaintiff disclosed to his supervisor that he had an affair with a Squad volunteer and that he and his wife were separated and seeking a divorce. Although the supervisor told plaintiff that this would not affect his job status, he did have to bring the divorce to the Squad’s board because of the potential nastiness of the impending divorce. The board decided to terminate plaintiff, maintaining that it was due to “corporate restructuring,” plaintiff’s poor performance, and his failure to improve that performance. Plaintiff filed suit against the Squad claiming that it violated the LAD by terminating him on the basis of his separation and pending divorce.

At trial, plaintiff testified that he was never formally disciplined, had been promoted twice, and had received annual raises. Plaintiff further stated that the divorce was quickly resolved, was amicable, and that he maintained a good relationship with his ex-wife. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case, the court granted the defendants’ motion for an involuntary dismissal, finding that the plaintiff “failed to present any evidence that he was terminated because he was either married or unmarried or because he was having an affair, or any evidence that employees were treated differently based on whether they were single, married, separated or divorced.” Instead, the court found that the “plaintiff presented proof that he was terminated because management was concerned about the likelihood of an ugly or messy divorce” which “did not give rise to a marital-status-discrimination claim.”

The Appellate Division reversed and interpreted “marital status” protection to include those who were separated or going through a divorce. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division that “marital status” protection was not limited to those who were single or married. Rather, those who were engaged, separated, going through a divorce, or were divorced were protected. The Supreme Court also agreed with the Appellate Division that the plaintiff “was terminated based on his employer’s stereotypes about the impact his divorce might have on the work performance of him and others.” The defendant terminated the plaintiff “because of invidious stereotypes about divorcing persons” which is unlawful under the LAD.

This holding affirms that the LAD “aims to discourage the use of categories in employment decisions which ignore the individual characteristics of particular applicants.” If you believe that you are the victim of discrimination based on your marital status, whether single, married, divorced, separated, or going through a divorce, contact the Law Offices of Damian Christian Shammas, LLC to discuss your situation.