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Are height requirements a form of employment discrimination?

In a previous blog post, we discussed how New Jersey state laws prevent employers from discriminating against people in protected categories. Those laws bar employers from considering the following statuses as grounds for denying employment: marital status, civil union status and domestic partnership status. The antidiscrimination laws also prevent employers from excluding potential employees based on their gender identity or expression or having previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

However, sometimes potential employees also face discrimination based on certain physical traits such as height. For example, a potential female firefighter recruit may be denied the opportunity to try out for a firefighter's job after being told that she does not meet the fire department's height standards.

The New Jersey Law against Discrimination makes it clear that employers cannot discriminate in any job-related action based on any of the aforementioned protected categories. It is important to note that LAD considers the recruitment, interviewing, hiring, promoting or discharging of any individual each as components of job-related actions. In other words, LAD also extends to individuals who have not yet been hired.

Perhaps the most far-reaching protection that LAD grants to potential employees is that it also requires employers to justify any neutral employment practice or policy if it has an adverse impact on protected categories, even if unintentional. That means that a fire department screening out employees based on height restrictions or other physical traits may be inadvertently limiting a disproportionate number of individuals from protected categories from gaining employment. Using the previous example, the fire department might be asked to demonstrate that its height restriction policy meets an important and legitimate business need that could not otherwise be reasonably attained.

If you are a New Jersey resident who suspects that you may have experienced workplace discrimination, you do not have to suffer quietly. Our state legal system provides a host of remedies that may remove barriers from your employment or allow the recovery of compensation for the discrimination you may have suffered.

Source: New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, "Employment Discrimination" Oct. 30, 2014

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