New Jersey Anti-Retaliation Law: Good Faith And Reasonable Basis

May 5, 2020 | by Danielle E. Pierre, Esq.

The burdens of proof for anti-retaliation cases under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination have been clarified for individuals who oppose practices of discrimination in the workplace. Specifically, an individual who claims to have been subjected to retaliation for opposing unlawful practices need not demonstrate that he believed that the underlying complaint of another employee was made on a good faith and reasonable basis. Conversely, the individual need only establish that he believed that his own claim of retaliation was made on a good faith and reasonable basis.

Rios v. Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center1

Emiliano Rios, an emergency medical technician and former employee of Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center (“Meadowlands”), sued Meadowlands following his termination. Rios believed his termination was in retaliation for his failure to participate in his supervisor’s attempts to retaliate against a former paramedic, for her complaint against the supervisor, and others, for sexual harassment.2

The lower court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment against Rios, concluding that he had not satisfied his burden of proving the prerequisite articulated in Carmona v. Resorts Int’l Hotel, Inc.3 In Carmona, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that “in a case in which a plaintiff alleged retaliation under the LAD, N.J.S.A. 10:5-12[(d)], the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that his or her original complaint – the one that allegedly triggered his or her employer’s retaliation – was made reasonably and in good faith.”4 (emphasis added).

The lower court in the Rios matter, as the Appellate Division explains, misapplied the Carmona holding, placing the burden on the plaintiff to prove that the underlying complaint was made reasonably and in good faith.5 In Rios, the former paramedic and friend of Rios, filed a complaint against members of the Meadowlands EMS alleging harassment during her employment. This complaint was filed without Rios’ knowledge of the alleged harassment or of the complaint itself. Relying upon the relationship between Rios and the paramedic, Rios’ supervisors allegedly attempted to coerce him into eliciting false information to place the paramedic in a negative light whereupon Rios refused and believed his refusal resulted in his termination.6

N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(d) expressly states that it is “an unlawful employment practice, or, as the case may be, an unlawful discrimination [for an employer] to take reprisals against any person because that person has opposed any practices or acts forbidden under this act” through coercion, intimidation, or other means aimed at violating the party’s protected rights.

The Appellate Division articulated in its April 2020 decision that the lower court erred in having placed the burden on Rios to prove that the paramedic’s complaint, the underlying complaint triggering the statutorily forbidden acts of his superiors, was made in good faith and upon a reasonable basis.7 Instead, the Appellate Division determined that a plaintiff is only responsible for proving the good faith and reasonable basis requirement for their own complaint of retaliation, articulating, that requiring anything else:

would be inconsistent with the broad remedial purposes of the LAD because it would bar claims of employees, like plaintiff, who have no knowledge regarding the basis of a co-employee’s underlying complaint, but who nonetheless have a good faith and reasonable basis to oppose an employer’s actions that otherwise violate the LAD.

[Rios, 2020 N.J. Super, at *13-14].

The Implications

A retaliation complaint must be supported by a good faith and reasonable basis under the LAD. However, when a plaintiff has filed an action because he has opposed alleged unlawful practices of another employee’s complaint, the plaintiff is not required to have knowledge of and thereby prove whether the original complaint, which he had no participation in, was pleaded in good faith and upon a reasonable basis. The Appellate Division has concluded that the application of this standard is limited to the plaintiff’s own alleged retaliatory triggering action.

Therefore, a plaintiff need only demonstrate a factual good faith and reasonable basis for their individual retaliation claim.


References

[1] Rios v. Meadowlands Hosp. Med. Ctr., 2020 N.J. Super. LEXIS 44, at *1 (App. Div. Apr. 14, 2020).
[2] “To establish a claim for retaliation under N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(d), a plaintiff must show, “(1) they engaged in a protected activity know by the employer; (2) thereafter their employer unlawfully retaliated against them; and (3) their participation in the protected activity caused the retaliation.” Tartaglia v. UBS PaineWebber, Inc., 197 N.J. 81, 125 (2008) (quoting Craig, 140 N.J. at 629-30) (emphasis added).
[3] Carmona v. Resorts Int’l Hotel, Inc., 189 N.J. 354 (2007).
[4] Id., at 373.
[5] Rios, supra, at *11.
[6] Id., at *3-5.
[7] Id., at *11, 12-14.