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New Court Opinion May Allow Out-of-State Telecommuting Employees to Bring Discrimination Actions in New Jersey

telecommuterThe New Jersey Law Against Discrimination was originally enacted in 1945. In the decades since, the legislature and the courts have expanded the reach of the LAD in order to reflect various changing realities. A recent decision by the Appellate Division may perhaps open the door for yet another group of workers when it comes to the LAD:  out-of-state telecommuters. This decision highlights how the law can change and how it pays to retain a knowledgeable New Jersey age discrimination attorney if you think you’ve been a victim of age discrimination.

The employee, Susan, had worked for 12 years for a company that was based in Haddonfield. During her employment, she only visited New Jersey a few times on business from 2003-08, and none from 2009-15. During the entire 12-year period, she never lived in New Jersey and never worked here. At all times, Susan worked remotely from her home in Massachusetts. She used an employer-provided laptop to connect to the employer’s computer server, and she used an employer-provided phone to participate in company conference calls.

After the employer terminated her employment, Susan brought a lawsuit in New Jersey, alleging age discrimination in violation of the LAD. The employer asked the court to throw out the lawsuit because Susan did not meet the requirements to bring a LAD lawsuit. The trial judge agreed and threw out the case.

The problem, according to the defense and the trial judge, was the law’s requirement that a worker be an “inhabitant” of New Jersey to pursue action under the LAD. According to the trial judge, it was “not even close” on that issue, since Susan did all of her work outside this state and lived outside this state the entire time, so she could not be an inhabitant.

Susan appealed, however, and the Appellate Division revived the woman’s case. The trial judge’s decision to throw out the case was premature, according to the appellate opinion. The appeals court pointed out that the word “inhabitant” is never defined anywhere in the law. Additionally, the word is only included in a “preamble” to the LAD, rather than in the body of the law. The body of the statute says that it applies to persons, rather than inhabitants. In other words, the group of workers potentially entitled to avail themselves of the protections of the LAD is not limited to just inhabitants of New Jersey.

Based on a proper reading of the law, Susan should have been able to pursue her case further. The trial court should have allowed her to conduct discovery (including demanding documents and taking depositions) related to her electronic and online contacts with this state in order to prove that the age discrimination she suffered took place in New Jersey, rather than Massachusetts.

In its opinion, the appeals court explained that the reach of the protections offered by the LAD should be broad. The statute’s overarching goal is eliminating discrimination, and given the “current computer technology and the forward thinking concept of ‘telecommuting,’” employees like Susan should at least be allowed to engage in discovery to attempt to prove their cases.

If you have suffered from discrimination at work, you should contact the knowledgeable New Jersey age discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates right away. Our team has been working determinedly to protect the rights of workers and help them pursue the compensation they deserve. Whichever changes occur in the law, we will be there to put the legal process to work for you. Reach us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how we can help you.

More blog posts:

Third Circuit Allows Employees to Go Forward with Age Discrimination Lawsuit Despite Employer’s Arbitration Policy, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Sept. 19, 2017

What a Pennsylvania Employee’s Court Success Means for New Jersey Workers, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Aug. 29, 2017

Photo Credit: 27707, [CC0 License], via Pixabay

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