Writing for the state high court, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia said, “The threshold for demonstrating a religion-based, discriminatory hostile work environment is no more stringent than the threshold that applies to sexually or racially hostile workplace environment claims. Here, plaintiff’s case satisfied the standards for a hostile work environment claim to warrant, and subsequently uphold, a jury determination.”
The state Supreme Court agreed with a trial court that Jason Cutler had presented a sufficient case to survive a motion for dismissal and said its judgment “was consistent with other judicial determinations that have recognized that a prima facie case for a religion-based hostile work environment claim can arise from the corrosive effect that religious taunts, belittling derogatory comments, and insults about one’s religious beliefs and ancestry can have when made in the workplace.”
The court rejected the police department’s attempts to excuse the harassing conduct as humor and “ribbing” that went on among members of the department. The court also rejected an appellate court’s opinion that the alleged conduct was sporadic and not sufficiently severe or pervasive to qualify as a hostile work environment under the Law Against Discrimination.
“On repeatedly hearing the stereotypic and demeaning remarks, a person of Jewish faith and ancestry could reasonably feel that his ability to be fairly evaluated was lost, and that the workplace was altered for the worse,” LaVecchia wrote.
According to the opinion, Cutler had been employed as a police officer by the Haddonfield Police Department since 1995. Cutler said the then-Chief of Police, Bill Ostrander, commented on Cutler’s Jewish ancestry “a couple times a month” and often referred to Cutler as “the Jew.” Cutler alleged that Lieutenant Lawrence Corson also made comments, such as “Jews are good with numbers,” “why didn’t you go into your family business,” and “Jews make all the money.”
Cutler said he did not complain at first because he feared retaliation. However, after an incident during which a fellow officer commented “let’s get rid of all those dirty Jews,” Cutler felt threatened and filed a Bias Incident Complaint.
He then filed an action against the department and other officers under the Law Against Discrimination. After a trial, a jury found that Cutler was subjected to a hostile work environment, but it awarded no damages because it found that a delay in Cutler’s promotion to corporal was not retaliatory.
An appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision to deny the police department’s motion for summary judgment, however, saying the alleged discriminatory conduct was not sufficiently severe or pervasive under the Law Against Discrimination.
The decision in Jason Cutler v. Theodore Dorn is here .