New Jersey Recognizes Law Against Discrimination's Protection For Perceived Characteristics

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In Cowher v. Carson & Roberts, __ N.J.Super. __ (App. Div. 2012), the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, recently held that a non-Jewish plaintiff stated a valid claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) for religious discrimination based upon his perceived status of being Jewish.  Plaintiff alleged that he was subjected to a hostile work environment because two of his supervisors subjected him to daily anti-Semitic remarks.  The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint, finding that because plaintiff was not Jewish, he could not prevail on his claim for a hostile work environment claim based upon anti-Semitic comments.

On appeal, the Appellate Division disagreed and reversed the trial court’s decision.  The Appellate Division recognized that New Jersey courts have long recognized that employees who are perceived to suffer from a disability are protected from discrimination under LAD.  The court then reasoned that, “there is no reasoned basis to hold that the LAD protects those who are perceived to be members of one class of persons enumerated by the Act and does not protect those who are perceived to be members of a different class, as to which the LAD offers its protections in equal measure.”  Id. at * 5.  Accordingly, the Appellate Division reinstated plaintiff’s complaint because there was evidence to suggest that he was subjected to discrimination because the two supervisors perceived plaintiff to be Jewish.

Employers should review their anti-harassment policies to ensure that such policies prohibit discrimination or harassment against employees based upon any perception that an employee or applicant is a member of a class protected by LAD.