“Old Man” Comments By A Supervisor Were Sufficient To Cause Hostile Work Environment And Individual Liability, New Jersey Appellate Division Holds

In Farrell v. Toys R’ Us, 2012 WL 4069515 (App. Div., September 18, 2102), an assistant store manager claimed that he was subjected to an age-based hostile work environment in violation of the NJLAD because his supervisor referred to him on a number of occasions as the “old man,” often in front of other employees. Reversing summary judgment, the Appellate Division held that this evidence alone was sufficient to satisfy the test for a prima facie case of hostile work environment, namely that a reasonable jury could conclude that: (1) the supervisor’s conduct toward the plaintiff would not have occurred but for his age; (2) the conduct was sufficiently severe and pervasive; (3) the supervisor’s conduct could lead a reasonable person to conclude that the conditions of employment had been altered. Further, as other co-workers allegedly joined in on the name-calling, and presumably “could have been encouraged to follow suit” because of the supervisor’s use of the term, the Appellate Division held that the question of individual liability should have made it to a jury.

Note: This article was published in the October 2012 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority.