On March 9, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an important employment law decision on pregnancy discrimination in the case of Delanoy v. Township of Ocean, which confirms the distinct causes of actions that may be brought and how they should be brought under the New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“NJPWFA”).
A female police officer for the Township of Ocean brought a pregnancy discrimination case against the Township based on standing operating procedures (“SPOs”) and the Township’s treatment, which she alleged discriminated against her in violation of the NJPWFA and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).
Ocean Township’s Police Department had two SOPs that governed light-duty work. One SOP governed light-duty for pregnant officers (the “Maturity SOP”). Another SOP governed light-duty for non-pregnant injured officers. The SOP for non-pregnant injured officers was considerably more favorable to officers because (1) the projected date of return to full duty was based on the doctor’s recommendation; and (2) the Chief of Police was provided with the option to waive the requirement that officers need to utilize all of their paid time off during the officer’s light duty assignment. The Maturity SOP set an automatic date of return to full duty 45 days after the expected due date and the Chief was not provided with the discretion to waive the requirement to use the officer’s paid time off during the light duty assignment.
As a result of the unequal treatment that resulted from the two SOPS, the female officer filed suit alleging that this constituted pregnancy discrimination under New Jersey employment law. The matter was initially dismissed when the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Ocean Township. However, after an appeal to the Appellate Division, the matter was presented to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s Opinion
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision confirmed that the NJPWFA provides potential plaintiffs with three different causes of action: “1) unequal or unfavorable treatment; 2) failure to accommodate; and 3) unlawful penalization.” Further, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the underlying Appellate Division opinion which found that the NJPWFA makes available claims for “unfavorable treatment” and “unfair treatment” based on a commonsense application of the statute and is supported by the pre-existing protections of the NJLAD which specifically prohibits discrimination in employment because an employee is “pregnant or breastfeeding.” Additionally, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that facially the Maturity SOP was invalid because it treated pregnant officers differently from non-pregnant officers seeking a light duty assignment. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision.
Effect on Future Cases
The Delanoy case is another New Jersey employment discrimination matter that brings to the forefront the powerful protections that New Jersey employees have under the NJPWFA and NJLAD. However, this matter also showcases the importance of properly and specifically alleging the causes of action that the plaintiff is bringing in their employment discrimination. In this case, and in all cases involving pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, these three causes of action under PWFA involving unfair treatment, failure to accommodate, and penalization are available under PWFA.
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