Tagged: Wrongful Termination

Meade v. Twp. of Livingston: Subordinate’s Indirect Influence Can Leave Employers Open to Liability Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

On December 30, 2021, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a case involving an allegation that a subordinate’s discriminatory animus indirectly influenced an employment termination decision in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD). In Meade v. Twp. of Livingston, the employee, a town manager, claimed that the town council decided to terminate her employment due to the gender bias of a male subordinate, the town police chief. Contrary to the trial court and appellate division, the Supreme Court concluded that there was a genuine dispute as to whether the police chief’s alleged bias influenced the town council’s decision, thereby rendering the case appropriate for a trial. In so ruling, the court noted that the matter was not a cat’s paw case (as argued by amicus curae National Employment Lawyers Association of New Jersey) because the town manager was not alleging the police chief influenced the town council to fire her, but that the town council’s decision simply was influenced by the police chief’s own purportedly discriminatory view of women. In coming to its decision, the court walked through the familiar McDonnell-Douglas burden shifting framework. It first explained that the town manager presented a prima facie case of employment discrimination: (1) the...

New Jersey Enacts and Expands Laws Providing Employees With Enhanced Benefits and Protections Resulting From COVID-19

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has recently signed into law two important bills – one (AB 3848) providing job protection to certain employees impacted by COVID-19 (“the COVID-19 Act” or “Act”), and the other (S2304) expanding the scope of the New Jersey Earned Sick Leave Law (ESLL), the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA), and the New Jersey Temporary Disability Law (“TDBL”). The Act, along with the amendments to the existing laws referenced above, are discussed below and are intended to increase protection and benefits to employees as a result of COVID-19. Job Protection for Certain Employees Who Take Time Off Due to Infectious Disease Under the COVID-19 Act, during the Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency declared by Governor Murphy concerning the coronavirus, employers are prohibited from terminating or refusing to reinstate an employee who requests or takes time off from work, for a specified time period, at the recommendation of a licensed New Jersey medical professional because the employee has or is likely to have an infectious disease that could infect others in the employee’s workplace. Upon the employee’s return from time off, he or she must be reinstated to the same position held when leave began, with no reduction in seniority, status, employment benefits, pay, or other terms and conditions of...

NJ Supreme Court Broadens Scope of LAD’s “Marital Status” Protection

On June 21, 2016, in Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, the Supreme Court of New Jersey addressed the scope of the marital status protection afforded to employees by the Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The Court ruled that the LAD’s marital status provision is not limited to the state of being single or married but protects employees who have announced “they will marry, have separated, have initiated divorce proceedings or have obtained a divorce.”

Employee Participation in Internal Investigation Not Covered by Anti-Retaliation Provision of Title VII, According to Second Circuit

The Second Circuit, in a case of first impression, ruled that an employee is not protected against retaliation prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) for participating in an investigation of sexual harassment conducted by an employer before a charge of discrimination has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Although under Title VII, employers are duty-bound to appropriately remedy discrimination and harassment in the workplace uncovered by such investigation, employers in the Second Circuit can breathe a modest sigh of relief that a negative employment action affecting an employee who claims protection under Title VII based on “participating” in an investigation following an internal complaint is not actionable.

Supervisor Can Be Held Liable Individually Under FMLA, Third Circuit Holds

In a case of first impression, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that a supervisor may be individually liable for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). While noting that individual liability is not recognized in some Circuit Courts, the Third Circuit in Haybarger v. Lawrence County Adult Probation and Parole reached a contrary conclusion.

Supreme Court Recognizes “Ministerial Exception” to Anti-Discrimination Laws

On January 11, 2012, the United States Supreme Court for the first time recognized the so-called “ministerial exception” to workplace discrimination laws. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Court unanimously found that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar wrongful termination suits brought on behalf of “ministers” against their churches. While this decision is helpful for religious group employers, including religious schools and places of worship, the Court left open the important question of which employees actually qualify as a “ministers.” Accordingly, the decision may create some confusion for religious group employers going forward.

United States Supreme Court Decides “Cat’s Paw” Theory of Liability in Staub v. Proctor Hospital

It is now clear that an employer may be held liable for unlawful discrimination when it unwittingly terminates an employee based on a supervisor’s recommendation or false allegations motivated by discriminatory animus. The United States Supreme Court, in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, No. 09-400, 562 U.S. _(March 1, 2011), resolved a split in the lower courts over the reach of the so-called “cat’s paw” theory of liability, which gets its name from the 17th century fable by French poet Jean de La Fontaine. In the fable, a monkey convinces a cat to remove chestnuts from a fire. The cat complies, pulling out the chestnuts one at a time, burning its paw in the process, as the monkey feasts on the chestnuts. In the employment context, the “cat’s paw” refers to a situation in which a biased subordinate employee, who lacks decision-making authority, uses the final decisionmaker as a dupe to trigger a discriminatory employment action. In Staub, the Court held that if the decision to terminate is based in whole or in part on the malicious recommendation or false allegations from a supervisor who has discriminatory motives, the employer can be held liable under federal statutes that prohibit employment discrimination.

Supreme Court Broadens Retaliation Lawsuits Under Title VII

The U.S. Supreme Court has just decided that an employer cannot “get back” at an employee who has complained about discrimination by going after other employees related to, or in a close relationship with, the complaining employee. By ruling in favor of a man who was fired after his fiancée complained about alleged sex discrimination at the same company, the Court’s decision in Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP has expanded Title VII anti-retaliation jurisprudence to encompass employees who themselves do not engage in “protected activity” as defined by the statute. Finding that the fiancée fell within the “zone of interests” of protection afforded by Title VII, he thus qualified as a “person aggrieved with standing to sue.” The decision is significant for employers because it establishes important precedent authorizing retaliation claims by employees other than the employee who made the original complaint of discrimination. Employers should make sure that their written anti-retaliation policies make clear to managers and supervisors that, after a claim of discrimination has been made, it is against company policy to retaliate not only against the employee making the claim but against any employee related to, or in a close relationship with, the complaining party.

Employers Must Accommodate Deviation from Dress Code When Based on Religion

The importance of making reasonable accommodations to workplace dress codes based on an employee’s religious practices was the focus of a recent settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Essex County, New Jersey. According to the Complaint filed by the DOJ in United States of America v. Essex County, New Jersey, Yvette Beshier, a Muslim corrections officer, was suspended and then terminated because the religious head scarf she wore violated the Essex County Department of Correction’s uniform policy. The DOJ alleged that Essex County’s treatment of Beshier constituted religious discrimination in violation of Tile VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it failed to accommodate her religious beliefs.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument on “Cat’s Paw” Theory of Liability; Decision Anticipated Later This Term

For the first time the United States Supreme Court is poised to provide guidance on the “cat’s paw” theory of liability in employment discrimination cases. Under the “cat’s paw” theory, an employee alleging to be the victim of unlawful discrimination seeks to impose liability on the employer in situations where a non-biased decision-maker is influenced by another, usually subordinate, employee who is, in fact, motivated by discriminatory animus. In Staub v. Proctor, the Supreme Court recently heard oral argument on the proper application of the “cat’s paw” theory, which gets its name from the 17th century fable by French poet Jean de La Fontaine. In the fable a monkey convinces a cat to remove chestnuts from a fire. The cat complies, pulling out the chestnuts one at a time, burning her paw in the process, as the monkey feasts on the chestnuts.