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Banning religious jokes: Seems extreme, but it could have saved Haddonfield in court

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in HR Management,Human Resources

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) protects employees against having to work in an environment hostile to their religious beliefs or background.

That means if your supervisors tolerate jokes, ribbing or other distasteful references to religious practices or stereotypes, you’re risking a lawsuit and all the expense that entails. The best practice: Ban such merriment, even if it seems that employees in the targeted religion are participating in the behavior.

Recent case: Jason Cutler, a police officer, sued the borough of Haddonfield after a fellow officer allegedly referred to members of Cutler’s religion as “those dirty Jews.”

Cutler alleged the comment created a hostile work environment in violation of the state’s LAD. But Cutler had participated in other jokes about his religion, as well as jokes targeting a born-again Christian officer.

A jury sided with Cutler, but the employer appealed, arguing that the one comment didn’t create a hostile work environment. The appeals court agreed, saying a single comment must be sufficiently severe to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment to a reasonable person of Cutler’s religion.

While the court previously held that a single comment to a black female, calling her a “jungle bunny,” did meet the standard, it said this comment didn’t. (Cutler v. Dorn, et al., No. A-5512-02T1, Superior Court of New Jersey, 2007)  

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