The Long Arm of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

The New Jersey Appellate Division has reversed the trial court’s dismissal of an out of state resident’s claim of age discrimination under New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.  The decision is an important reminder to employers that New Jersey’s strong public policy to eradicate discriminate in all its ugly forms may extend to non-New Jersey residents who suffer from discrimination that is protected under the New Jersey state law.

In the case Trevejo v. Legal Cost Control, Inc., and John Marquess, the employee, Susan Trevejo, lived in Massachusetts and worked remotely from her home for the employer, whose principal place of business was located in Haddonfield, New Jersey.  In claiming that she had standing to sue under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, Ms. Trevejo pointed out the fact that she was provided a company computer to connect to the company’s corporate server in New Jersey and a company phone to communicate with other company employees, some of whom lived and worked in New Jersey.  The employer argued that Ms. Trevino was never a resident of New Jersey at any point in her employment, never lived in New Jersey and never sought or received any benefits from the state of New Jersey.  The employer also pointed out the fact that although Ms. Trevejo had traveled to New Jersey for business at times during her employment, she had not done so any time from 2009 through 2015.

Twelve years into her employment, the employer terminated Ms. Trevejo’s employment. In response, Ms. Trevejo filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.  During the lawsuit, Ms. Trevejo’s employment lawyers requested broad discovery to prove she was entitled to pursue her age discrimination claims under New Jersey’s discrimination laws, including the nature and substance of her electronic and other virtual contact and connection to the employers’ New Jersey office as part of her day-to-day work activities.

The trial court restricted the discovery sought and dismissed her lawsuit by finding that Ms. Trevejo was not an inhabitant of New Jersey and that New Jersey did not have an interest in her age discrimination claims.  Ms. Trevejo appealed the trial court’s dismissal of her age discrimination claim by arguing that the discovery should have been more expansive and was necessary to clarify the nature and extent of her daily, albeit virtual, connection to New Jersey for the purposes of her employment. The Appellate Division agreed and remanded the case back to the trial court for additional discovery.

In reversing the trial court’s decision, the Appellate Division held that the NJLAD is not limited to “inhabitants” of New Jersey.  In reaching this decision, the Appellate Division looked to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination statute  itself in which they noted that the term “inhabitant” was referenced only once in the preamble to the statute and the term “person” was constantly used throughout the the statute concerning who is provided by the statute.  Based upon its reading of the statute, the Appellate Division found that a person does not have to be a resident of New Jersey in order to have standing to sue under the law.

The Appellate Division specifically recognized that the ruling was consistent with the overarching goal and strong public policy of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination is to eradicate discrimination from the workplace entirely and that the trial court’s dismissal of the claim because the employee was not an inhabitant of New Jersey was incongruent with this principle.

In reaching its decision, the Appellate Division considered factors other than Plaintiff’s residency  such as  where  Trevejo’s fellow employees worked and whether they worked from home, the kind of software provided by LCC for Plaintiff and other LCC employees to use in order to conduct business, the location of the server and the internet service provider used to connect Plaintiff to LCC’s office in New Jersey, who made the decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment and other issues relevant to Plaintiff’s contacts with New Jersey which would warrant protections under the NJLAD.

Whether an out of state resident can pursue a claim under New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law is a fact sensitive inquiry.  To be clear, not everyone can pursue a claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.  In its simplest sense, the employee must show that New Jersey has an interest in the claim for discrimination.  However, what is clear is that an individual will not be barred from pursuing a claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination solely because they are not a resident of the state.