The Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division has reinstated a Complaint from a woman who had previously filed two lawsuits accusing her former employer of discrimination and sexual harassment, with the second claim incorporating her wrongful termination. Upon hearing arguments from Mrs. Youngclaus linking her termination – which was linked to a remote work request – to the discrimination and harassment that preceded it, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded it back to the lower courts to be adjudicated.

Mrs. Youngclaus was hired in May of 2016 by Residential Home Funding Corp., or RealFi, to be a marketing manager and director of marketing. In September 2021, she filed suit against the company, its president and owner, its CEO, and its vice president of branch development in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Morris County, accusing them of gender discrimination and sexual harassment under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. She claimed that they had engaged in “severe and pervasive patterns of mentally and physically abusive conduct” from May 2016 through July 2020 and cited 21 instances of unprofessional, sexual, and inappropriate comments and discrimination made toward her by male staffers and executives.

The trial court granted RealFi’s motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim: the company had asserted that the allegations were time-barred under the two-year statute of limitations. In response, Mrs. Youngclaus filed a second lawsuit. It included all of the acts asserted in the first complaint in greater detail plus four more, and added a claim of discriminatory wrongful termination. She asserted that during the COVID pandemic and while she was on maternity leave, the company had relocated from Morris County, near her home, to White Plains, New York. She had asked to work remotely in the same way that similarly situated male employees had been allowed to do, but was told she would not be able to work from home and was “abruptly, wrongfully terminated.”

The lower court again granted RealFi’s motion to dismiss the case, agreeing that she had not put forward sufficient facts that occurred within the statute of limitations. The court noted that her failure to provide specific incidents was not sufficient to assess whether her termination had been part of the preceding acts, and therefore was not identifiable as a discriminatory act within the statutory period.

In reviewing the victim’s request to reconsider the lower court’s decisions, the appellate court agreed with Mrs. Youngclaus that the trial court had applied a higher standard than what was required by New Jersey’s rules surrounding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and that the case should not have been dismissed because the wrongful termination fell within the statute of limitations and was a continuation of the discriminatory behavior. Calling her firing “part of a pattern of discriminatory conduct,” the judges ruled that her ability to revive the time-barred acts included in her original claim was permitted under the continuing violation theory. The judges wrote in their decision that under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice … for an employer, because of the … sex …. of any individual … to discharge … from employment such individual.” The judges also reversed the trial court’s rulings that the acts that came before the wrongful termination, which included “demeaning, abusive, and coarse language and conduct; sexual advances and innuendo; gender stereotypes; retaliation; and unequal treatment based on plaintiff’s gender were discrete acts. They determined that the victim’s complaint represented a plausible basis for a continuing violation, and if proven would constitute “a pattern of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that was severe or pervasive, and created a hostile or abusive work environment.”

This decision is unpublished, which means that it does not constitute legal precedent, but the ruling can assist employers and employees in understanding their rights and responsibilities.

If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, or in some other way suffered because an employer violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the attorneys at Schorr & Associates can help. Contact us today to set up a time for us to discuss your situation.