Employers can be held liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) for discriminating against an employee because of the employee’s association with a member of a protected group (e.g., sex, race, national origin, religion, disability, etc.).  This means an employer is prohibited from taking adverse employment action against a worker in the form of a hostile work environment, demotion, failure to promote, cut in pay, wrongful discharge, etc., where for example: (a) a Caucasian worker married an African American or other person of color; (b) a worker gets engaged to a Muslim; (c) a female employee gives birth to a child with disabilities; or (d) an employee’s spouse becomes afflicted with a potentially terminal disease.

Courts have found protection against “association discrimination” under New Jersey’s LAD”.  See e.g. Downs v. U.S. Pipe & Foundry Co., 441 F. Supp. 2d 661, 665 (D.N.J. 2006) (“In the absence of any contrary authority, this Court concludes that the New Jersey Supreme Court would hold that NJLAD bars employment discrimination based upon a person’s association with a person with a disability”) (citing O’Lone v. N.J. Dep’t of Corr., 313 N.J. Super. 249 (App. Div. 1998) and Berner v. Enclave Condo. Ass’n, Inc., 322 N.J. Super. 229 (App. Div. 1999), cert. denied, 162 N.J. 131 (1999)); see also Pailleret v. Jersey Constr. Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42364 *22 (D.N.J. Apr. 19, 2011) (“The NJLAD affords protection to both disabled persons as well as individuals associated with disabled persons”).

In O’Lone, the New Jersey Appellate Division held “where the plaintiff is wrongfully discharged for associating with a member of a protected group, that it is the functional equivalent of being a member of the protected group”.  O’Lone, 313 N.J. Super. at 255 (emphasis added).  Downs, supra., is very instructive in this matter.  In that case, the pertinent facts were set forth as follows:

In late January, 2003, [the plaintiff] asked [his immediate supervisor] for permission to take a number of days off of work because his wife was ill.  [The plaintiff] alleges that [the immediate supervisor] denied this request, but [the plaintiff] nonetheless took the days off.  Following his return to work, [the immediate supervisor] engaged [the plaintiff] in a heated argument.  [The plant manager] subsequently refused to discuss the incident with [the plaintiff].  Instead, [the plaintiff] was contacted by [the human resources director] several times over the course of the next day and a half.  [The plaintiff’s] employment was terminated on February 6, 2003.

Downs, supra., 441 F. Supp. 2d at 662.

In Downs, supra., the plaintiff filed suit and alleged, among others, the “[d]efendants unlawfully discriminated against him and interfered, intimidated, and created a hostile work environment because of his relationship with and association with a disabled person, namely his wife, under the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA“) and NJLAD.”  Id.  The ADA claims were dismissed by stipulation and the defendants moved for summary judgment as to the LAD association discrimination claim.  Id.  Relying upon O’Lone and Berner, supra., as well as Pascucci v. Twp. of Irvington, 46 F. App’x 114, 117 (3d Cir. 2002) (where the Third Circuit found that LAD provides protection against association discrimination), the United States District Court of New Jersey denied the defendants’ motion and allowed the plaintiff’s association discrimination claim to survive summary judgment.  Downs, supra., 441 F. Supp. 2d at 665.

If you believe you have been or are the victim of a hostile work environment, demotion, failure to promote, cut in pay or benefits, or wrongfully discharged because of your association with a person because of the other person’s sex, race, national origin, age, religion, or disability (mental, emotional or physical), then you should immediately contact the employment attorneys at Mashel Law by calling (732) 536-6161 or filling out the contact form on this page for immediate help. At Mashel Law, located in Morganville, New Jersey, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.

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