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NJ Supreme Court Expands Definition of Marital Status Under the LAD

Jun 29, 2016 | Written by: William H. Pandos, Esq. |

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently issued an important interpretation of New Jersey’s “Law Against Discrimination” (LAD), of which all New Jersey employers should be aware.  The LAD prohibits discrimination against employees based upon their “marital status.”  In Robert Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, the Court was faced with interpreting the scope of “marital status” protection. The Court ruled that the LAD’s protection is not limited to the state of being single or married; it also prohibits discrimination against a prospective or current employee based on his or her status as separated, in the process of divorce, or divorced.               

In Smith, the plaintiff was employed as director of operations of the Millville Rescue Squad.  He was terminated shortly after he informed his supervisor that he was having an affair with a volunteer worker, and that he and his wife, who also worked for the rescue squad, were separated and about to commence divorce proceedings.  Smith alleged his supervisor stated that he could not promise that the affair would not affect his job, and that it “all depends on how it shakes down.”  A little over a month later, Smith advised his supervisor that there was no chance he and his wife were reconciling.  The supervisor stated that because there was no chance for reconciliation, he had to bring Smith’s employment status before the Squad’s Board of Directors.  The Board decided to terminate Smith’s employment ostensibly due to poor work performance.  Smith then filed suit.              

Whether the LAD protects an employee who is in the process of divorce from discrimination was an issue of first impression.  The New Jersey Supreme Court took a broad interpretation of “marital status” discrimination and held that employees in the process of divorce are also protected by the LAD.  The Court’s liberal interpretation of the LAD also prevents employers from discriminating against employees based upon their status as engaged, separated, or widowed.  It is important that New Jersey employers are aware of this new interpretation of the LAD because many new classes of employees and prospective employees were confirmed as being protected from employment discrimination under the law.

If you have any questions about the LAD or other employment issues, contact Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC  at 908-735-5161.



William H. Pandos is an Associate Attorney with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC.