New Jersey’s highest court equated ethnic jokes and religious comments in the workplace with sexual and racial harassment.
The state Supreme Court voted July 31 to uphold a Camden County jury’s decision in favor of a Haddonfield police officer.
Jason Cutler, who is Jewish, had filed a lawsuit in 1999 because his former chief would often comment on his religion, referred to him as “the Jew,” and once asked him “where (his) big Jew … nose was,” according to Newsday.
His fellow police officers reportedly would poke fun at his Judaism, including pasting stickers of Israeli flags and modern-day Germany on his locker, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark. In April 1999, Cutler was about to watch a video about the Maccabi Games that were to be held near Haddonfield when another officer said, “Let’s get rid of all those dirty Jews.”
A lower court initially ruled that the remarks were “teasing,” but that was reversed in 2003 by the Camden County court. The Supreme Court upheld the latter ruling, essentially making ethnic jokes akin to sexual and racial harassment.
“Consistent with this state’s strong policy against any form of discrimination in the workplace, we hold that the threshold for demonstrating a religion-based, discriminatory hostile work environment cannot be any higher or more stringent than the threshold that applies to sexually or racially hostile workplace environment claims,” Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote for the court.
“This decision does not mean the end of humor in the workplace, but it should make people rethink the type of humor that is being used,” said Etzion Neuer, the New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “People tend to be dismissive when someone else’s race, religion or sexual orientation is being mocked. This is not about somebody being too thin skinned.”