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In New Jersey, even employee’s spouse can bring lawsuit—For indirect damages

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Need another reason to train supervisors and managers not to discriminate? Here’s one: In New Jersey, an employee’s spouse can join in a lawsuit alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress caused by an employer.

What’s more, the spouse also can sue for loss of the employee’s companionship if the employee can show that his or her employer’s conduct was intentional or reckless, extreme or outrageous, and was the cause of the employee’s emotional distress (and that the distress was so severe that no reasonable person would be expected to endure it).

Recent case: Herman Perez and his wife sued the New Jersey Transit Corporation when Perez was fired from his probationary job as a transit police officer. He claimed his supervisors falsely accused him of harassing his neighbors in order to fire him in retaliation for leading an effort to strengthen the local Hispanic Law Enforcement Association.

Perez and his wife sued, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium. The wife argued that she had been deprived of her husband’s care and companionship because he was an emotional wreck after he was fired.

The court agreed a spouse could sue for the indirect damage he or she suffers. However, in this case, the court ruled neither had established that the employer’s action was severe enough to constitute intentional emotional distress. (Perez & Perez, v. New Jersey Transit Corporation, et al., No. 04-452, DC NJ, 2007)

Final note: Examples of the sort of outrageous conduct that may lead to a lawsuit include lying about an employee’s alleged theft or other wrongdoing, or holding the person up for ridicule in front of other employees.

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