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Supreme Court Rules on Protection of Divorcees

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On June 21, 2016, the issue of whether the Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, protects individuals who are separated from their spouses or are in the process of divorce was decided by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. In Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, Robert Smith was fired from his job at the Millville Rescue Squad, where he had worked for 17 years. Smith maintained that he was fired shortly after informing his supervisor of his affair with a co-worker and separation from his wife. During that time, Smith testified that his supervisor made several unsavory remarks expressing his belief that Smith would have an “ugly divorce” and went to the board of directors to address the situation. Smith explained that he had divorced his wife amicably, had never been subject to formal discipline and had been promoted twice. Consequently, Smith brought suit against the Millville Rescue Squad, asserting claims under the LAD and state Constitution for wrongful discrimination on the basis of sex and marital status. The Supreme Court noted that the term “marital status” was not defined in the LAD and, therefore, looked to the LAD’s legislative intent. It ruled that discrimination based on marital status was not limited to the state of being single or married-the LAD also prohibits discrimination based on a prospective or current employees’ status as single, married, separated, in the process of divorce or divorced. The Court thus ruled for Smith, reasoning that the supervisor’s animus toward divorcing persons affected the company’s overall decision to fire Smith. 

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