New Jersey case: Employers may not discriminate based on divorced status

Antidiscrimination laws in New Jersey offer a broader range of protection than you might expect.

Under both federal and state law, you are protected from a wide range of discrimination in the workplace. Employers are barred by law from tolerating harassment or taking employment action based on race, religion, sex and a variety of other protected statuses.

One of the many types of employment discrimination you are protected against is discrimination based upon marital status. This means that an employer cannot demote, terminate, refuse to hire or otherwise take negative employment action against you because you are married or because you are unmarried.

But, the prohibition against marital status discrimination in New Jersey also extends farther than that. In a 2014 case, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that protections against marital status discrimination in New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination also encompass discrimination based on the state of being divorced.

Marital status discrimination more than just actions taken based on being married or unmarried

In the recent employment discrimination case, a New Jersey employee informed his supervisor that he and his wife were separating, that he did not believe there was a chance they would reconcile and that the separation came about because he was having an extramarital affair. Approximately six weeks later, the employee was fired. Subsequently, he filed an employment discrimination lawsuit, saying that his supervisor told him he was being let go because he and his wife were about to go through a messy divorce.

At trial, the employee's claim was dismissed. The court found that because there was no evidence he was terminated either because he was married or unmarried, the facts of his case could not support a cause of action based on marital status discrimination.

However, on appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division noted that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination is a remedial statute, and it must be interpreted broadly. The law did not narrowly define "marital status" discrimination as being limited to discrimination based upon the status of being married or of being single. Therefore, the law also covers discrimination based upon the status or expected status of being divorced, and by extension, discrimination based on other types of marital states of being, such as being engaged or being separated. The Appellate Division reinstated the employee's case.

A New Jersey employment law attorney can help you if you have been discriminated against

This recent New Jersey ruling imparts a couple of important lessons. One, your discrimination protections in the workplace are probably broader than you think. Two, when employers take adverse action rooted solely on stereotypes of expected behavior rather than on actual employee misconduct, it is highly likely that illegal employment discrimination has taken place.

If you have been discriminated against at the workplace, you may have legal remedies at your disposal. You employer cannot retaliate against you for pursuing a valid discrimination claim, and you may be able to pursue equitable remedies as well as fair compensation. Talk to a New Jersey employment law attorney to learn more about filing a workplace discrimination claim.

Keywords: New Jersey, discrimination, employment