Employee's Taking of Confidential Information Can Be a Protected Activity Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

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In Quinlan v. Curtiss-Wright Corporation, __ N.J. __ (December 2, 2010), the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether an employee’s taking, copying and dissemination of an employer’s confidential documents can be a protected activity under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. (“LAD”). After balancing LAD’s strong public policy of eradicating discrimination in the workplace against the legitimate interests of employers, the Court ruled that in certain circumstances the copying and dissemination of confidential information by an employee can constitute a protected activity.

In Quinlan, Ms. Quinlan, an employee of Curtis-Wright, sued the company alleging gender discrimination in violation of LAD. To support her case, Ms. Quinlan gathered over 1,800 pages of company documents that she believed supported her claim that she had been subjected to gender discrimination by being passed over for a promotion. Some of those documents contained confidential personal information of other employees. While her lawsuit was pending, the company discovered that plaintiff had copied the confidential documents and provided them to her attorney, who used some of them during a deposition in the case. As a result of this discovery, the employer terminated plaintiff for alleged theft of company property. Ms. Quinlan subsequently amended her complaint to include a claim for retaliation.

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