State Judges Consider Employment Rights in Firing of Divorcee

In a story straight out of a soap opera, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard a case earlier this month revolving around the rescue squad of Millville, Cumberland County.  At the center of it all is a seventeen-year veteran of the squad, Robert Smith, who claims that he was fired from his long-held position after getting divorced, for the primary reason that his superior holds discriminatory beliefs against divorce. According to the squad captain and the board of directors, Mr. Smith’s firing came about due to poor work performance, rather than negative stereotypes.

The firing in question happened back in 2006, and the initial suit filed by Mr. Smith was originally dismissed by a trial judge. It was reinstated by the Appellate Division, and the Supreme Court of NJ agreed to hear the appeal by the squad. Here is some of the background information on this employment issue case, and more details on the arguments given by both sides.

He Said– Smith: Mr. Smith and his attorney argued that the case is clearly discriminatory and in violation of the LAD, or Law Against Discrimination in New Jersey. He says that the LAD prohibits an “employer dictating social policy”, which he and Smith claim was what happened in this incident. As the squad argued additionally on the possibility of disputes could have happened between Smith and other squad members, who were relatives of his ex-wife, Iavicoli fought against their ability to stereotypically predict hostility where it had not been shown. He additionally argued that Smith had done very well in his position, saving the squad ‘millions’, and that any arguments that he was let go for performance reasons were unfounded.

They Said– Squad: According to the Millville rescue squad, and their legal representation, Mr. Smith had been underperforming at work, and the possibilities of hostility between himself and his former mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law, who both worked alongside him on the squad, were too much to risk. It was also mentioned that the reason for divorce was due to Mr. Smith cheating on his wife with another co-worker on the squad. Their attorney drew comparisons to the employment rights of an employee if their child married the CEO of a competing organization.

They Said—Judges: After the case was originally dismissed by Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Richard Geiger, it was reinstated by Appellate Division Judges Carmen Alvarez and Mitchel Ostrer, who said that the firing happened due to “stereotypes about divorcing persons… [that] they are antagonistic, uncooperative with each other, and incapable of being civil or professional in each other’s company in the workplace.” They also cited rising divorce rates in the United States, and seek to clarify that the LAD does cover divorced persons as covered under marital status in protections against discrimination.

If you feel you have been wrongly terminated from your place of employment due to discriminatory practices, you need an attorney who will fight for you. Contact Steven Fox at Borrus, Goldin, Foley, Vignuolo, Hyman and Stahl to learn how our half-century of legal experience can protect your career and future. Call us at 732-422-1000 today for a consultation.