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New Jersey Supreme Court Considers Legality of Firing Employee Because of Divorce

The NJ Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case involving a New Jersey employer that allegedly fired a worker because he was in the process of getting divorced.

The Millville Rescue Squad, which is located in Millville, NJ, is accused of terminating the employment of Robert Smith, the director of operations, in anticipation of his pending divorce. The rescue squad reportedly did not want to deal with workplace issues that could potentially arise as a result of Smith working alongside his mother-in-law and sisters-in-law.

Smith, who was employed by the rescue squad for 17 years, claims that his bosses fired him shortly after he told them about his divorce. Further, Smith alleges that his superiors pressed him on the matter and urged him to reconcile with his wife. When Smith informed his bosses at the rescue squad that the couple would not be reconciling, he was let go from his position.

Smith later filed a discrimination lawsuit, which claimed that the Millville Rescue Squad violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by firing him because of his pending divorce. The LAD protects NJ workers against discrimination on the basis of marital status.

The question before the Cumberland County Superior Court judge was whether “marital status,” as it is used in the LAD, includes divorce. The trial court judge presumably believed the defendant’s claim that Smith was fired because of “poor job performance” and dismissed Smith’s lawsuit. The judge specifically noted that Smith had not shown that his firing was a violation of the LAD.

Smith did not take the trial court’s dismissal lying down. He appealed the decision, resulting in the New Jersey Appellate Division reinstating the claim. The Millville Rescue Squad responded with an appeal of its own, which is why the case is now being heard by the NJ Supreme Court.

The court is going to have to decide whether New Jersey employers can base their employment decisions, including determinations about whom to hire and fire, on stereotypes about divorce. In this case, the rescue squad argued that Smith, once divorced, would no longer be able to work amicably with his ex-spouse’s family members. One of the NJ Supreme Court justices questioned this logic and said that it was based on “completely wrong assumptions about divorce.”

Depending on the ultimate resolution in the case, NJ divorce laws could become even more complex going forward.

To learn more about the implications of the recent New Jersey Supreme Court case, read the NJLawJournal.com article entitled, “Justices Consider Whether Divorce Can Justify Firing.

For a consultation about a family law matter, contact Ronald Graziano today. He is an experienced New Jersey divorce attorney who is prepared to listen to your concerns and advise you about the best course of action.

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