Appellate Division Finds That New Jersey Law Against Discrimination May Apply To Out-of-State Telecommuters
In Trevejo v. Legal Cost Control, Inc. (Docket No. A-1377-16T4, April 2, 2018), the New Jersey Appellate Division examined whether an out-of-state telecommuter may be afforded protections under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). Plaintiff, an out-of-state resident of Massachusetts, was employed by Legal Cost Control, which is a New Jersey corporation based out of Haddonfield, New Jersey. Following her employment termination, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of New Jersey alleging age discrimination in violation of the NJLAD. Legal Cost Control moved to dismiss the lawsuit via motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff was not an “inhabitant” of the State of New Jersey, and therefore, could not pursue a claim under the NJLAD.
Following limited discovery, the trial court granted Legal Cost Control’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit. However, Plaintiff appealed the decision, and the Appellate Division agreed with Plaintiff. Specifically, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded the decision to allow the parties to take additional discovery to determine whether Plaintiff is entitled to protections under the NJLAD. In so doing, the Appellate Division found that the NJLAD may apply to out-of-state residents who are subject to unlawful misconduct in the State of New Jersey.
In rendering its decision, the Appellate Division determined that “[t]he NJLAD is a remedial statute that has been broadly construed to protect not only ‘aggrieved employees but also to protect the public’s strong interest in a discrimination-free workplace.’” In addition, the Appellate Division found that Legal Cost Control’s reliance on the term “inhabitant” was misplaced given that the NJLAD “explicitly uses the term ‘person’ to identify who is protected from discriminatory and unlawful employment practices and conduct.” Accordingly, the Appellate Division held that additional discovery should be taken regarding whether the discriminatory conduct took place in New Jersey, including the following: where Plaintiff’s co-employees worked; whether those co-employees worked from home; the nature of the software used by Plaintiff and other employees to conduct business on behalf of the company; the location of the company’s server used to connect Plaintiff to the company’s New Jersey office; the location of the company’s internet service provider; the individual(s) who made the decision to terminate Plaintiff and the basis for the decision; and any other issues relevant to Plaintiff’s contacts with the State of New Jersey and her work for the company.
With today’s ever-increasing technological advances, the definition of workplace seems to be evolving. Indeed, telecommuting and working from home appear to be more common than ever given the advances in computer technology. Accordingly, this decision represents a further expansion of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination given that it offers out-of-state residents potential coverage under New Jersey law.
If you have any questions about this decision or the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, please contact the Law Office of Frank A. Custode, LLC.