In Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, (A-19-14, June 21, 2016), the New Jersey Supreme Court broadly interpreted the prohibition against marital status discrimination in the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) to protect a person who has separated from his or her spouse and is in the process of getting a divorce. In the case at hand, a plaintiff was discharged after he informed his supervisor he was engaged in an affair with a coworker and that he and his wife (another coworker) were about to commence divorce proceedings. Fearing there would be an “ugly divorce,” the supervisor took the matter to the company’s board of directors, which terminated the plaintiff’s employment.
The plaintiff asserted a claim of marital status discrimination under the LAD. While his claim was dismissed by the trial court, the Appellate Division reversed and reinstated his claim. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification and affirmed the Appellate Division’s ruling. The court held that the LAD’s prohibition against marital status discrimination is not limited to the state of being single or married; it also prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s status as separated, in the process of getting a divorce, divorced, never married, engaged, or recently widowed.