Many statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability also prohibit discrimination because of a person’s relationship or association with a person with a disability. For example, an employer would engage in an unlawful employment practice under one of these statutes if they terminate or otherwise take adverse action against an employee because a member of the employee’s family has a covered disability. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) expressly prohibits this sort of “associational discrimination.” See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(4). The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) does not specifically mention associational discrimination, but courts have found that it is included in the statute’s prohibition on discrimination based on disability and other factors. In June 2019, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that an individual who resides in Illinois can assert a claim for associational discrimination under the NJLAD against his New Jersey-based former employer. If you have a workplace dispute, a New Jersey employment lawyer can help make sense of state and federal laws that could have an impact on your case.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADA takes a broad view of associations and relationships. It is not limited to close family members like spouses, children, or parents. The EEOC offers a hypothetical example of an individual who “tutors children at a local homeless shelter” that “is well-known for providing job placement assistance for people living with HIV/AIDS.” ADA regulations identify HIV as a covered disability. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(3)(iii). If that individual’s employer terminates them because of that activity, the EEOC says that they would be in violation of the ADA. The “association” in this example is minimal when compared to many familial relationships.
The defendant in the case described above is based in New Jersey. It hired the plaintiff in 2008 to work as a vice president at the office of a subsidiary in Illinois. The employment agreement included choice of law clauses identifying New Jersey as the governing law and venue for disputes. The plaintiff’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer that same year. It went into remission but returned in 2014. The defendant was aware of her condition. The plaintiff alleges that, in 2016, the defendant denied him an opportunity for a promotion and then terminated him.
The plaintiff filed suit under the ADA in an Illinois federal court in 2017. He also filed suit that year in New Jersey for two alleged instances of associational discrimination under the NJLAD: denial of the promotion opportunity and wrongful termination. The Law Division dismissed the case, accepting the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff had no viable claim in New Jersey as an Illinois resident. It cited a reference in the NJLAD’s preamble to “inhabitants” of New Jersey. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-3.
The Appellate Division reversed the dismissal of the claim regarding the promotion opportunity, finding that the NJLAD applies. It found that the factors in the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Laws “strongly weigh in favor of applying New Jersey law to that claim.” It vacated the dismissal of the wrongful termination claim and remanded it to the Law Division, finding a need for “further development of critical facts bearing on the Second Restatement factors.”
If you need assistance with a dispute involving your employer in New Jersey or New York, the employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group can help you understand your legal rights and options. Please contact us at 973-781-1204, at 646-867-7997, or through our website today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case with a member of our team.