Can You Lose Your Job Because You Are Getting Divorced in New Jersey? The New Jersey Supreme Court Has Agreed to Decide.
When couples decide to divorce, they do so knowing that the decision will impact their lives in many ways. Aside from the obvious cutting of the marital tie, couples also understand that the decision to divorce could potentially change their social circles, parenting responsibilities, and finances. However, most people would not anticipate that their divorce could also cost them their job. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to Robert Smith.
In 2005 Robert Smith was a 16-year veteran of the rescue squad in Millville, New Jersey. At that time, Smith’s wife, mother in law, two sisters in law, and a woman with whom he was having an extra-marital affair, also worked for the squad.
Smith’s wife discovered the affair in June 2005 and shortly thereafter informed John Redden, the Executive Director of the squad and Smith’s supervisor. Redden did not ask Smith to discontinue the relationship and did not take any disciplinary action against Smith at that time. Notwithstanding that fact, Smith’s paramour voluntarily resigned from the squad.
In January 2006, Smith informed his supervisor that he and his wife would be moving forward with their divorce. Less than two months later, Smith was terminated from his job. Smith claimed that when Redden terminated him, he said it was because the divorce would be ugly.
Smith sued, claiming that his termination amounted to unlawful discrimination on the basis of his marital status and sex in violation of the Law Against Discrimination. In response, the squad alleged that Smith was fired because of long-standing poor job performance, which Smith denied.
The trial court dismissed Smith’s claim, on the basis that he had failed to present evidence that he was terminated because of his marital status and, therefore, could not prove his discrimination claim.
Smith appealed. The New Jersey appeals court reversed the trial court’s dismissal and reinstated Smith’s claim. It found that the squad terminated Smith “because of stereotypes about divorcing persons–among other things, they are antagonistic, uncooperative with each other, and incapable of being civil or professional in each other’s company in the workplace.” The appeals court also concluded that the term “marital status” as included in the Law Against Discrimination protects divorced and divorcing, as well as married and unmarried people, from being discriminated against on that basis of that status.
The New Jersey Supreme Court granted Millville’s request to hear the case. On December 1, 2015, the Court heard oral argument from the parties’ attorneys. However the New Jersey Supreme Court rules, the decision will have impact on the intersection between personal life and work for employers and employees throughout the state.