New Jersey Supreme Court Clarifies that Supervisors Are Liable for Discrimination if They Actively and Purposefully Participated in it

On May 28, 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court made an important ruling that helps to clarify when a supervisor or manager can be held legally responsible for his or her participation in discrimination and harassment under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1, et seq. (“LAD”). The LAD makes it illegal for a company to discriminate against or harass its employees on the basis of their race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex, pregnancy, familial status, marital status, domestic partnership status, sexual orientation, military service, or mental or physical disability.

The case, Cicchetti v. Morris County Sheriff’s Office, first recognizes that although the LAD makes it illegal for a company to discriminate against its employees, it does not make it illegal for an individual, such as a supervisor or manager, to discriminate. However, the case further recognizes that the LAD does make it unlawful for an individual to “aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden” by the LAD. N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12(e). The Supreme Court then ruled that an employee who brings a claim of discrimination or harassment against a supervisor must prove that the supervisor engaged in “active and purposeful conduct” before he or she can be held liable for aiding and abetting discrimination or harassment. Thus, the Supreme Court clarified that it is possible to sue a supervisor who participated in discrimination or harassment, but the employee must prove that the individual was actively and intentionally involved in the discrimination to prevail on that claim.