Terminated: A Marriage’s End Should Not Lead to Employment’s End
Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 9:25AM
Admin in Employment Defense, Family Law, General Business, Nicole Kamm, Vanessa Soto Nellis, discrimination claims, divorce, wrongful termination

Divorce Attorney
Discrimination Defense Attorney

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
& Nicole Kamm

 

Last month, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Robert Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad (MRS) that an employer cannot terminate an employee for separating or divorcing – the processes of which apparently falls under the protected category of marital status under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD).

 

Operations director and paramedic Robert Smith and his wife both worked for MRS and decided to separate when he began an affair with a squad volunteer. When Smith asked about continued employment, the squad’s CEO, John Redden, said it “All depends on how it shakes down.”

Redden also allegedly told Smith at a later meeting that the CEO would not take the case to the squad’s board if there had been the slightest chance of Smith and his wife reconciling; and that Smith “had eight months to make things right” with his wife. He also warned Smith the divorce would be “ugly”.

The board decided to terminate Smith based on corporate restructuring, poor work performance, and failure to improve work performance.

Smith sued MRS, alleging wrongful discrimination and wrongful discharge under New Jersey’s LAD. Smith testified that he was never subject to formal discipline, received annual raises, and was promoted twice.

The trial court ruled Smith failed to show he was discriminated against. An appellate court reversed, and the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously upheld the appellate decision, stating the LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against job candidates and employees because they are single, married or “transitioning from one state to another”. The court considered the CEO’s comments to be biased against people seeking divorce.

Marital status is one of the extensive list of protected categories under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Under Government Code §12940(a), employers are prohibited from refusing to hire, employ, or train; discriminate in compensation, employment conditions or privileges; or terminate an individual because that person is married, single, separated or divorced.

These protections for divorcing employees may raise some issues for business owners and management. Consider the following: 

So unless a business qualifies for a rather narrow ministerial exception, an employer can’t fire an employee for divorcing. 

An Ounce of Prevention: Protecting Business Interests

From a family law perspective though, there are some things a business owner may do to minimize damage from an employee or business partner’s divorce:  

Employers should also be aware of the various protected categories and take steps not to discriminate, harass or retaliate against an employee on such bases.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis and Nicole Kamm are Shareholders at our firm.  

 

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Article originally appeared on Los Angeles Attorneys (http://www.lewitthackman.com/).
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