Sean X. Kelly and Melissa J. Kanbayashi in the firm’s New Jersey office recently prevailed in the Appellate Division resulting in a the reversal of the trial court and complete dismissal of all claims against our client, a New Jersey municipality. The underlying suit was a wrongful termination claim arising under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Plaintiff claimed that his termination was in retaliation for the filing of a workers compensation action. The defense case presented evidence that the termination was fully in compliance with mandated Civil Service regulations.
The trial court twice refused to enter summary judgment on behalf of our client. Given the far reaching legal implications for our client and other municipalities, we successfully sought interlocutory appeal to the Appellate Division. The Appellate Division granted the appeal, wholly adopted the defense arguments and reversed the trial court on every issue, ordering that the matter be dismissed with prejudice.
Under the LAD, the burden of persuasion shifts to the defense to establish a legitimate non- discriminatory motive for any adverse employment actions. Too often, trial courts are apt to find that such evidence put forth by the defense merely establishes “issues of fact” which prevent the entry of summary judgment. Such was the case here with two different trial judges. However, we were successful in this case in persuading the Appellate Division that municipalities who are following State Civil Service regulations as a matter of law can not and should not be subject to discrimination claims under the LAD. The Appellate Division recognized that such evidence does, in fact, present a legal defense, not a factual dispute.
If you would like a copy of the opinion, or if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.