The Appellate Division recently held that in enacting the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the Legislature intended the Act to be construed as broad enough to extend to certain nonresidents who sought employment in the State. Calabotta v. Phibro Animal Health Corp., N.J. Super. LEXIS 100 (June 27, 2019).

Plaintiff David Calabotta, an Illinois employee, sued his New Jersey-based employer Phibro Animal Health Corporation under the NJLAD after his supervisors first failed to consider him for a promotion due to his wife’s battle with breast cancer. His employment was ultimately terminated. Defendant Phibro argued that Illinois law should apply because Calabotta resided in Illinois and worked out of the Illinois office. Id. at 6. However, Calabotta maintained that New Jersey law and the NJLAD should apply because the company headquarters were in Teaneck, the senior executives who made all employment decisions regarding Calabotta’s status were at the New Jersey headquarters, and the promotional position he sought was in New Jersey. Id at 6 and 11.

The court in Calabotta found that, after careful examination of the NJLAD’s text and legislative history that there was no legislative intent to limit LAD to job applications who live in New Jersey or to those who perform all of their employment functions in New Jersey. Generally, the best indicator of the legislative intent behind the enactment of a statute is the statute’s plain language. Calabotta, N.J. Super. at 25 (citing Lippman v. Ethicon, Inc., 222 N.J. 362, 380-81 (2015) and quoting Donelson v. DuPont Chambers Works, 206 N.J. 243, 256 (2011)). However, if a statute’s plain language is ambiguous, then courts look at extrinsic evidence for their analysis, such as legislative history. Parsons v. Mullica Twp. Bd. of Educ., 226 N.J. 297, 308 (2016). In this case, the confusion and ambiguity stemmed from the construction of the NJLAD’s preamble, which uses the word “inhabitant,” despite the fact that “inhabitant” is not used in the rest of the statute. Calabotta, N.J. Super. at 27-28.

While the Court recognized that “[a] court may turn to a statute’s preamble as an aid in determining legislative intent,” it also noted that “[t]o the extent that the preamble is at variance with the clear and unambiguous language of the statute, the preamble must give way.” Id. at 28 (quoting DiProspero v. Penn, 183 N.J. 477, 496-97 (2005)). Ultimately, the Court was persuaded that the Legislature did intend to extend NJLAD protection and benefits to certain nonresident plaintiffs. Id. at 24 (“Such an intention about the NJLAD’s breadth may be gleaned from both the words of the statute and the expansive policies that underpin it”).

The Court cites to a number of cases that stress the Legislature’s intent to provide broad protection to plaintiffs under the NJLAD for public policy reasons. Acevedo v. Flightsafety Int’l, Inc., 449 N.J. Super. 185, 190 (App. Div. 2017) (quoting Jackson v. Concord Co., 54 N.J. 113, 124 (1969) (NJLAD is “remedial legislation intended ‘to eradicate the cancer of discrimination[,]’ protect employees, and deter employers from engaging in discriminatory practices.”); Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, 225 N.J. 373, 390 (2016) (quoting Nini v. Mercer City Cmty. Coll., 202 N.J. 98, 115 (2010) (“[T]he more broadly [the NJLAD] is applied, the greater its antidiscriminatory impact”). The Court notes that the statute itself states that, “[a]ll persons shall have the opportunity to obtain employment… without discrimination” and that the statute’s plain language does not limit the definition of “person” to New Jersey residents or employees. Calabotta, N.J. Super. at 26; N.J.S.A. 10:5-4.

The Court also acknowledges that in terms of a failure to promote case, it makes sense to have applicants treated under the same law: the law of the state in which the job vacancy is. Id. at 39. Applying this approach furthers the NJLAD’s values of “certainty, predictability, and uniformity of result.” Id. at 40-41. Therefore, the Court ultimately reasoned that NJLAD protection extends to Calabotta and the next question on remand becomes whether Calabotta’s claim of associational disability discrimination based on his wife’s cancer has merit.

At Mashel Law LLC, we are well experienced in handling NJLAD claims. It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee during the interviewing or promotion process. If you believe you have been unlawfully treated by an employer because of your race, sex, national origin, religion, or other qualifying factor, call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help in assessing whether you have an actionable claim against your employer. At Mashel Law, LLC, located in Marlboro, New Jersey, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.

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