The New Jersey Supreme Court recently recognized that an employer can be held liable for discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) based on an employment decision that was influenced by a subordinate’s discriminatory animus, whether or not the subordinate intended to get the employee fired. Michele Meade informed the Livingston Township Council that she had concerns about Police Chief Handschuch’s job performance. Livingston’s employment lawyers indicated that although the facts supported disciplining the Chief, they were insufficient to fire him, and they were concerned that if Livingston fired the Chief, then he might sue Livingston under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).
Instead of firing Chief Handschuch, Livingston fired Ms. Meade for purported performance issues. Ms. Meade disputes each of those reasons.
After firing Ms. Meade, Livingston replaced her with a new male Township Manager. In a memo entitled “Meade failures,” Councilmember Shawn Klein noted that Ms. Meade “couldn’t get rid of [the] Chief” but the new Township Manager “did it in a couple of months… based on infractions that the Chief committed while [Meade] was at her position.”
Ms. Meade sued Livingston, alleging it fired her “to appease the sexist male Police Chief” in violation of the LAD. Livingston eventually filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Ms. Meade appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed. Accordingly, Ms. Meade asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to review the case, which it agreed to do. Ms. Meade sued Livingston, alleging it fired her “to appease the sexist male Police Chief” in violation of the LAD. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that a jury could find Ms. Meade’s gender played a role in Livingston’s decision to fire her. It therefore reversed the Appellate Division’s ruling so a jury can decide whether Livingston fired Ms. Meade in violation of the LAD.
Read more about the case here.