A recent ruling from the state appeals court has clarified who is included in the protections afforded by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, New Jersey family attorneys report. Although the law does not specifically define the protected parties, the appellate division has interpreted its language to include couples who are going through a divorce. “We interpret ‘marital status’ to encompass the state of being divorced, the Appellate Division said. “Divorce unquestionably affects marital status.”
The Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prevents companies and employers from discriminating against employees based on a person’s marital status. This includes offering perks or incentives such as vacation time, sick leave, work-from-home options, etc., to single people only, or married people only. The law does not specifically say what is meant by ‘marital status,’ but the appellate division said in their ruling that “it would significantly undermine the marital status protection if an employer could freely discriminate against persons who choose to divorce,” particularly given the high divorce rate among today’s couples.
In the case in question, Robert Smith, the former director of operations for the Millville Rescue Squad, claimed that he was fired from his position because he and his wife, who also worked for the squad, were going through a divorce. He brought his case to the courts, citing the protections afforded in the LAD, which he and his New Jersey family attorney asserted should include people who are divorced or are in the middle of a divorce.
Smith had been working with the Rescue Squad for 17 years, 10 of which he spent as a paid employee. His wife, her mother, and two of her sisters worked there as well. When Smith and his wife separated in 2006, he told the squad’s executive director about the split, and about his affair with another employee. The supervisor asked if there was any chance that he and his wife would work things out, which Smith alleged led to his firing—his supervisor believed that he would be going through a messy divorce process. The official cause of termination was listed as poor work performance. The first case Smith filed was dismissed, because the judge ruled that the LAD’s ‘marital status’ provision only applied to married or unmarried persons.
The appellate court, however, rejected this narrow opinion to include divorcing couples. “‘Marital status’ necessarily embraces stages preliminary to marriage—one’s engagement to be married. The term also covers stages preliminary to marital dissolution—separation and involvement in divorce proceedings,” the judges ruled. “The purpose of the ban on marital-status-based discrimination is to shield persons from…interference in one of the most personal decisions an individual makes—whether to marry, and to remain married.”
With this ruling, family lawyers in New Jersey say that those fearing pressure at work for the dissolution of their marriage should take heart. An employer must uphold fair practices for all employees—married, single, or divorcing.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our family attorneys represent New Jersey residents who need help starting or continuing the process of divorce. Contact an HCK attorney for a consultation about your case today.