NJ Labor And Employment Law

The New Jersey Labor and Employment Law Blog is authored by Jay S. Becker and Joseph C. DeBlasio, shareholders in the Labor and Employment Law Practice Group, with support from the associates in the Group. It is dedicated to provide news and updates regarding all labor and employment matters throughout New Jersey.

The New Jersey Appellate Court Expands Discrimination Protection to Employees Outside the Protected Class

April 23, 2012 | No Comments
Posted by admin

On April 18, 2012 the Appellate Division expanded the interpretation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the state’s anti-discrimination law, by ruling that a man who endured anti-Semitic slurs can sue his employer for religious discrimination even though he is not Jewish. Cowher v. Carson & Roberts, A-4014-10T1 (N.J. App. Div., Apr. 18, 2012)

Myron Cowher, a former truck driver for Carson & Roberts Site Construction & Engineering Inc., sued the company and three supervisors after he allegedly was the target of anti-Semitic remarks for more than a year, upon the mistaken belief that he was Jewish. The comments included remarks that, “only a Jew would argue over his hours” and “if you were a German, we would burn you in the oven.”

The appeals court considered only whether he has standing to bring the claim, being that he is not Jewish. The suit had already been dismissed by the trial court on that same basis. The Appellate Division reversed the dismissal, holding that if Cowher can prove the discrimination “would not have occurred but for the perception that he was Jewish,” his claim can proceed.

The “proper question” in this case, the court said, is what effect the supervisors’ allegedly derogatory comments would have on “a reasonable Jew,” rather than on a person of Cowher’s actual background. This decision is significant because it expands the scope of who can bring a discrimination claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, by allowing a person to pursue a claim for discrimination based upon a protected characteristic not actually possessed by the person bringing the claim.
This decision shows just how broadly courts in New Jersey are willing to interpret the state anti-discrimination laws. The burden on employers to regulate conduct among co-workers is now higher than ever before.


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