In a decision released yesterday, the NJ Appellate Division upheld the dismissal of a discrimination claim brought by a NJ Transit employee. In Middleman v. New Jersey Transit, No. A-4203-08T2 (Sep. 13, 2010), the employee alleged she was discriminated against on the basis of her age, gender, and race when her employer failed to promote her to a foreman position. The court reviewed the promotion decision and found that NJ Transit had articulated several legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for passing the employee over for promotion — none of which the employee could effectively rebut.
On appeal, the employee argued that the trial court ignored evidence of a hostile work environment, which she claimed cast doubt on the employer’s reasons for failing to promote her. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the employee had previously withdrawn her hostile work environment claim. The court focused solely on the claim that NJ Transit failed to promote the employee. On that claim, the employee failed to present any evidence to rebut the employer’s argument that she performed poorly at the interview. Therefore her appeal was denied.
When companies are sued for discrimination, they have an obligation to explain themselves. They must come forward with legitimate reasons for decisions which otherwise seem discriminatory. This is not a heavy burden. In this case, the employer simply stated that the employee did not perform well at her interview. It then fell upon the employee to point to evidence which showed that reason to be false. She could have shown that the interview process was rigged from the start, or biased, or even overly subjective. She could have shown that other females were also rated poorly, while men were rated higher. Unfortunately for this employee, she could not present any evidence in her favor, and thus her case was dismissed.
If you are experiencing discrimination or harassment at work, it is imperative that you contact a knowledgeable employment attorney. Your career is at stake. Make sure the attorney you call is a specialist in this area.