In a case decided in the last few days called Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided that employers are not permitted to “retaliate” against their employees in the workplace because they are separated or contemplating divorce, even if the breakup is contentious.
In a unanimous decision, the court reiterated that the state’s Law Against Discrimination, precludes retaliation based on a worker’s marital status and clarified that, “that marital status is not limited to the state of being single or married.” Appellate Division Judge Mary Cuff, temporarily assigned to the Supreme Court, wrote the opinion on which all of the other Justices concurred. She went on to say that 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.”
The specifics facts of the case revolve around a 17-year veteran of the Millville Rescue Squad, Robert Smith, who claimed that he was fired after he informed his boss that he was separated from his wife. The key to the decision appears to be that Miller claimed he was told he was being fired because the divorce would be “ugly.” He was ultimately fired and told it was because of poor work performance. A trial judge initially dismissed the case, but the Appellate Division reinstated it on appeal. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, and ultimately agreed with the Appellate Court.
The Court went on to emphasize that,”The LAD prohibits an employer from imposing conditions of employment that have no relationship to the task assigned to and expected of an employee…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.”
The lower court, now upheld, wrote that “[Millville Rescue Squad] terminated plaintiff because of stereotypes about divorcing persons—among other things, they are antagonistic, uncooperative with each other, and incapable of being civil or professional in each other’s company in the workplace.” The Supreme Court agreed, saying that a person contemplating marriage, separation or divorce should not have to worry about how that might affect his or her employment status.”We conclude that the LAD prohibits an employer from discriminating against a prospective or current employee because they are single, married, or transitioning from one state to another,”