In Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad, 2014 WL 2894924 (App. Div. June 27, 2014), the Appellate Division held that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s (NJLAD) prohibition against discrimination based on “marital status” encompasses discrimination against individuals who are in the process of being divorced. The Appellate Court’s decision thereby broadens the NJLAD’s scope of “marital status.”

The court reasoned that although the NJLAD does not define “marital status,” the statute should be read liberally given its remedial purpose of discouraging the use of categories in employment decisions that ignore an individual’s characteristics. The court noted that “marital status” should be interpreted to embrace stages preliminary to marriage and preliminary to marital dissolution. Therefore, discrimination against an individual based on marital status should encompass individuals who are married, engaged to be married, single, separated, divorced, in the process of being divorced, re-married, or widowed.

The court’s decision does not, however, prevent an employer from discharging an employee who, as a result of a divorce or the process of being divorced, demonstrates a lack of professionalism, incivility, or antagonism in the workplace.