Most people have little knowledge or experience with the state's labor laws, but they're probably aware that it's illegal to discriminate against an employee because of his or her marital status. Anti-discrimination laws are spelled out in the state's Law Against Discrimination (LAD), which prohibits discrimination based on factors such as race, age, gender and sexual orientation. Marital status has traditionally been viewed as married, single, divorced or widowed. These definitions, however, are rather limited in light of the fact that many couples today cohabitate without getting married, or live in separate households for personal and/or financial reasons.
Legal separation, with or without intent to divorce, is a grey area with great potential for disruptions in a person's life. That potential, however, should not be used by employers to dismiss employees, or to prevent them from receiving raises, promotions, and other career advancements. This was the legal argument presented in the case of Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, which was decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court on June 21, 2016. The plaintiff alleged that he was fired by the defendant after he told his supervisor that he had separated from his wife, and that he was in the process of filing for divorce. Because he had cheated on his wife, who by the way, was also employed by the defendant, the supervisor advised the plaintiff that this information may have a negative effect on his job.
Shortly after, the plaintiff was fired due to corporate restructuring and poor job performance, according to the employer. The plaintiff filed suit, claiming that he had never been formally disciplined, and had received annual raises along with two promotions. The trial court ruled in favor of the employer, stating that their concern over the plaintiff's separation and impending divorce was not evidence of discrimination against his marital status. The Appellate Division overturned the ruling, citing that separation, as well as being in the middle of divorce proceedings is a status or marriage. As such, the plaintiff's disclosure to his supervisor should not have affected his employment status. On the issue of the plaintiff's termination, the court acknowledged that “The LAD does not bar an employer from… business decisions to discipline or terminate an employee whose personal life decisions… have disrupted the workplace or hindered the ability of the employee or others to do their job. However, an employer may not assume, based on individual stereotypes, that an employee will be disruptive or ineffective simply because of life decisions such as a marriage or divorce.”
Cases like Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad demonstrate the complexity of intimate relationships, as well as the stigma that continues to be attached to individuals who are undergoing divorce. Social stigmas, however, should have no bearing in the workplace, nor should they prevent you from receiving the divorce settlement that you deserve. For more information on your divorce rights and legal options, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca.