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Discriminatory epithets not tolerated at work

A New Jersey man won an appeal that will expand the definition of our state's anti-discrimination laws. The appeals court said he can sue his former employer over anti-Semitic slurs, even though he is not Jewish. He says he endured the remarks for more than a year at his job in Sussex County and they created a hostile work environment.

Remarks were made comparing his actions to stereotypical Jewish characteristics. The appeals court decision did not rule on whether the man's case has merit, simply that he can proceed with his suit. The judge said that just the perception that he was Jewish and ridiculed because of that perception, his complaints are covered by New Jersey's anti-discrimination laws.

The law is meant to protect people from discrimination based on age, religion, sexuality and race. In the past, some judges have thrown out cases because there was a discrepancy between the discriminatory remarks and the person's actual religion. This new interpretation of the law is surprising, since many appellate courts have ruled in favor of employers in recent years. In this instance, the judge took the angle that a "reasonable Jew" would be offended by the remarks, even though the harassment was aimed at a Lutheran.

As a result, this ruling means that anyone can bring an anti-discrimination suit, even if they are not part of a protected class. It also means that if management is not effective in eliminating the discriminatory behavior, they are also held accountable in such lawsuits. The man was ridiculed in a locker-room type exchange of religious, ethnic and appearance-based comments.

Source: nj.com, "Court rules man who claims he endured anti-Semitic slurs can sue despite not being Jewish," April 22, 2012

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