NJ Supreme Court Hears Case About Firing Employee Who Got Divorced
The New Jersey Supreme Court is currently considering whether NJ employers can fire employees on the basis of divorce. The case arose in Millville, New Jersey. The Millville Rescue Squad allegedly fired Robert Smith because he was on the verge of getting divorced from his wife. Smith had worked with the rescue squad for 17 […]
The New Jersey Supreme Court is currently considering whether NJ employers can fire employees on the basis of divorce.
The case arose in Millville, New Jersey. The Millville Rescue Squad allegedly fired Robert Smith because he was on the verge of getting divorced from his wife. Smith had worked with the rescue squad for 17 years before he was let go from his position as director of operations.
Smith claimed in his legal complaint that his superiors made the decision to terminate him after he informed them that he would not be reconciling with his wife. According to Smith, his bosses called him into their office and told him that they were letting him go from his position because they did not want anything to do with what would probably be an “ugly” divorce case. Moreover, Smith said, he was explicitly told by his bosses that he would be able to keep his job with the rescue squad so long as he reconciled with his wife.
Smith responded by filing a discrimination complaint, in accordance with the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The question before the trial court judge was whether the Millville Rescue Squad violated the state law by firing Smith on the basis of his pending divorce.
The Cumberland County Superior Court judge dismissed Smith’s initial complaint because the defendant had claimed that the firing was based on Smith’s poor work performance while Smith had failed to sufficiently show that the termination was in fact a result of discrimination based on marital status. Smith appealed the trial court judge’s dismissal and the NJ Appellate Division reinstated the original claim. The Millville Rescue Squad then appealed that ruling, prompting the New Jersey Supreme Court to agree to hear the case.
While appearing in front of the NJ Supreme Court justices, the rescue squad’s attorney argued that the squad’s management acted reasonably in anticipating that Smith’s divorce would have “an adverse impact on the workplace” because Smith’s mother-in-law, as well as two sisters-in-law, also worked for the squad.
A major issue before the court is whether NJ employers are legally entitled to base hiring and firing decisions on stereotypes about divorce and the (perhaps outdated) belief that divorced spouses and their family members are simply not able to coexist and work together amicably. One of the New Jersey Supreme Court justices openly questioned whether an employer should be allowed “to engage in completely wrong assumptions about divorce.”
The New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an amicus brief in support of the fired worker in the case. The NJ ACLU argued in the brief that the LAD should be interpreted broadly to protect workers against discrimination on the basis of their personal relationships, including decisions about whether to marry or divorce.
Regardless of how the court comes down on whether the LAD’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of marital status also includes divorce, the case could have a ripple effect on New Jersey divorce law and discrimination law for years to come.
For further information about the recent NJ Supreme Court case, read the NJLawJournal.com article entitled, “Justices Consider Whether Divorce Can Justify Firing.” http://www.njlawjournal.com/id=1202743741466/Justices-Consider-Whether-Divorce-Can-Justify-Firing?mcode=0&curindex=0&curpage=ALL
If you are about to file for divorce, or if you are already in the process of getting divorced, it is imperative that you talk to a qualified New Jersey divorce and family law attorney. The experienced divorce lawyers at Davis & Mendelson can help you explore your legal options and protect your rights.