Best Ohio Gender Discrimination Attorney and Top Religious Discrimination Lawyer Answer: Can I sue for wrongful termination if I was fired today for getting divorced? Can I be fired because my boss doesn’t want to employ single mothers? Can my employer use any kind of religious exemption to get rid of me for getting divorced?
At The Spitz Law Firm, LLC, our employment lawyers deal with employment issues and employment law developments across the country. Thus, it is very important that we keep up-to-date on employment laws and decisions in all 50 states, even if those laws aren’t yet on the books in Ohio. One such development occurred recently in New Jersey, where the state has made it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee regarding that employee’s marital status. To be clear, Ohio does not protect employees from discrimination based on being single, in the process of getting divorced or any past divorce. Ohio Revised Code § 4112.02 (A) lists “race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry of any person” as protected classes, meaning that employees cannot be discriminated against on those basis. However, Ohio does not list marital status as a protected class under R.C. § 4112.02 or anywhere else in the Revised Code. So, under Ohio law, your boss cannot discriminate against divorced women because single mothers have too many issues while not treating single fathers in the same way. Moreover, your deeply religious manager cannot try and impose his or her religious beliefs against divorce on you. But, if all divorced workers are fired equally without consideration of gender, religion, race or any of the other protected class status, there is no viable claim for wrongful termination against your employer.
Which brings us to the interesting case of New Jersey. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) includes all the protected classes that Ohio includes in R.C. § 4112.02 but also adds on “gender identity and expression,” “affectional or sexual orientation,” “atypical cellular or blood trait,” “genetic information,” and “marital or domestic partnership or civil union status.” The last protected class listed, “marital or domestic partnership or civil union status” was just in the news in New Jersey and offers an interesting case that could very well be an issue that the Ohio legislature considers for addition to Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws.
The New Jersey Supreme Court was faced with a marital status issue in Robert Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad. In Smith, Robert Smith was Director of Operation with the Millville Rescue Squad and in early 2006, began the unfortunate process of separating and divorcing his wife. Shortly after beginning the divorce process, Smith told his supervisor that he and his wife were separated, seeking a divorce and the reason behind the divorce was that Smith was having an affair with a volunteer worker. It is important to note that Smith’s ongoing affair with the volunteer worker did not violate any Millville Rescue Squad policies.
Smith’s supervisor told Smith that he could not promise that the pending divorce would not affect Smith’s job status and also commented that Smith’s wife would have an “ugly divorce.” A short time later, right after disclosing the pending divorce and affair, Smith was fired in February 2006. Millville claimed the termination was due to corporate restructuring, Smith’s poor performance, and Smith’s failure to correct his poor performance. However, oddly enough, the trial court ruled that Smith was actually fired because Millville was “concerned about the likelihood of an acrimonious divorce” but that the termination still did not “give rise to a marital-status discrimination claim.”
The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously disagreed with the trial court and said that the LAD is not “limited to the state of being single or married.” The Court went on to hold that:
We conclude that the LAD prohibits an employer from discriminating against a prospective employee or a current employee because they are single, married, or transitioning from one state to another.
Thus, Millville’s termination of Smith ran afoul of the LAD because the termination was based on the fear that Smith’s divorce would be “acrimonious.” While Ohio does not currently outlaw discrimination based on marital status, the New Jersey Supreme Court decision is certainly interesting and would come into play were Ohio to consider amending Ohio’s anti-discrimination law. The Spitz Law Firm will continue to monitor changing laws around the country when it comes to marital status discrimination and will be ready to help Ohio employees once martial discrimination becomes unlawful at the state or federal level.
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