Until the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Recent Decision in Cutler v. Dorn, victims of religious based harassment in the workplace in New Jersey have labored under a significant disadvantage. As a result of a regrettable 1999 opinion from the Appellate Division in Heitzman v. Monmouth, religious harassment victims had been forced to meet a higher standard of proof as to what constituted a religiously hostile workplace than had other hostile workplace victims, such as those suffering racially or sexually hostile workplaces.
The Heitzman Court, with all due respect, seemed to pick and choose which evidence it considered to support the hostile workplace claim, seeming to torture the fact pattern so that evidence which was strongly supportive of the plaintiff’s claims was not considered, while ‘weak’ evidence was. The result was an opinion which seemed to set the bar higher for religiously hostile workplace claims than for hostile workplace claims of any other type.
And boy, did the defense bar jump all over it. In every case of religious harassment – and in many other types of harassment cases – the defense bar attempted to use the Heitzman decision to start chipping away at the gold standard for a hostile workplace claim in New Jersey as set forth in the Lehmann v. Toys ‘R’ Us decision.
Heitzman had since 1999 therefore represented a road block against a number of meritorious cases, resulting in unfair and early dismissal or impaired value, for many years, until the recent decision of Cutler v. Dorn.
Finally, as a result of the Cutler v. Dorn decision, religious harassment cases are now adjudicated in exactly the same way as are other workplace harassment cases. The standard for religious harassment cases is now higher than it is for other types of harassment cases.
The employment bar is most encouraged by the elimination of the Heitzman decision and by the placement on equal footing of religious based harassment claims with other types of harassment prohibited under the New Jersey LAD.