The New Jersey Supreme Court has yet to decide whether an out-of-state remote worker who worked for a New Jersey-based company is protected by New Jersey’s laws prohibiting workplace discrimination. This is why the New Jersey District Court for the District of New Jersey in Schulman v. Zoetis, Inc., 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121702 (decided July 14, 2023) was required to predict how the New Jersey Supreme Court rule if faced with this same question. The District Court of New Jersey answered this question in the affirmative concluding that our New Jersey Supreme Court would hold that New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) protected out-of-state employees who worked for New Jersey based companies.
Schulman was a New Hampshire resident who worked remotely from home for defendant Zoetis, a company headquartered in New Jersey. She sued Zoetis under, among others, New Jersey’s LAD law claiming she received less than her male counterparts performing same or similar work. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss arguing that the LAD did not extend to protect Schulman, a New Hampshire resident, who worked for the company from her home in New Hampshire.
The District began its analysis by acknowledging that our Appellate Division had already held that LAD protected a non-New Jersey resident who worked for a New Jersey employer from workplace discrimination where he was denied a promotion to a position in New Jersey employer’s and then was allegedly wrongfully discharged in violation of the LAD by the same New Jersey employer’s non-New Jersey subsidiary. Calabotta v. Phibro Animal Health Corp., 460 N.J. Super. 38 (App. Div. 2019). The Court in Calabotta reasoned that LAD protects “all persons” — and “[t]he statute’s plain language … does not limit the definition of ‘person’ to New Jersey residents or employees.” Id. at 61. The appellate court further noted that other relevant statutory terms defined in the LAD such as “employer” and “any individual,” did not purport to limit the statute’s coverage to those who work or live in New Jersey. Id. at 61-62.
The Calabotta court focused key statutory terms such as “employer”, “person”, and “individual.” See Calabotta, 460 N.J. Super. at 61-62. In following tenets of statutory construction directing courts when determining the meaning of statutes to give them their Lain meaning, Oberhand v. Dir., Div. of Tax’n, 193 N.J. 558, 568 (2008), the appellate court in Calabotta declined to read into these terms any concepts other than the plain meaning of the aforementioned words, i.e., “Person,” for example, was not read as “person in New Jersey.” Id. at 61-62. The court in Calabotta also recognized that “special rules of interpretation” applied to the LAD because it served as “remedial social legislation whose overarching goal is to eradicate the cancer of discrimination. As such, it should be liberally construed….” quoting Nini v. Mercer Cnty. Cmty. Coll., 202 N.J. 978, 108-09 (2010). The District Court in Schulman was further persuaded by how the Calabotta court liberally applied the LAD to reach, “reached an outcome that apparently seeks to advance that purpose: if a New Jersey based company and its New Jersey-based officials are making decisions on a discriminatory basis, there is “discrimination in the workplace” in New Jersey — and that is so regardless of where a particular employee reports to work.”
Finally, in following the statutory construction the Calabotta court applied to the LAD, the District Court reasonably concluded, “there is a better chance that, in the end, the New Jersey Supreme Court will land on the same bottom-line conclusion as Calabotta: that the New Jersey LAD can apply to out-of-New Jersey workers employed by New Jersey-based companies.” Accordingly, the District Court denied Zoetis’ Motion to Dismiss by concluding that our New Jersey Supreme Court would hold that a Plaintiff like Schulman who a non-New Jersey resident was working outside of New Jersey for a New Jersey connected employer would be protected by the LAD.
If you believe you are or have been a victim of unlawful workplace discrimination you are urged to call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help. Mashel Law, located in Marlboro, New Jersey, is dedicated to protecting the rights of its employees.