Supreme Court Finds That Employer May Be Liable Under The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination For Subordinate Non-Decisionmaker’s Gender Bias

In the recent decision of Meade v. Township of Livingston (A-52-20, 085176 decided on December 30, 2021), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that an employer may be liable for gender discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) due to its decision to terminate an employee based on the perceived discriminatory bias and attitude of a subordinate non-decision making employee.

Plaintiff Michele Meade was the Township Manager for Livingston Township. In that capacity, Ms. Meade supervised Police Chief Craig Handschuch. In April 2013, pre-school teachers at the Livingston Community Center observed a man in camouflage carrying a rifle bag in their parking lot. The classes subsequently went into lockdown and patrol cars were dispatched. In response, Chief Handschuch and Sergeant Kenneth Hanna alerted the responders that the alleged incident was an officer training exercise. In her capacity as Township Manager, Ms. Meade disciplined the officers for their failure to notify the Community Center. Sergeant Hanna subsequently filed a criminal complaint against Ms. Meade, alleging that she used “unreasonably loud and offensive coarse or abusive language” in addressing him. Sergeant Hanna filed a second complaint against Ms. Meade, alleging that she had “purposely com[e] into physical contact with officers and civilians in an attempt to obstruct and stop an authorized ESU [Emergency Services Unit] exercise.” Ms. Meade was subsequently acquitted of all charges.

Between the filing of Sergeant Hanna’s second complaint and Ms. Meade’s acquittal, Ms. Meade issued a disciplinary memo to Chief Handschuch for “delinquent work” and “unresolved work issues.” Chief Handschuch acknowledged the memo but did not respond to it.

During an Executive Committee meeting shortly thereafter, Councilman Michael Silverman stated “Michele [Meade] would not have this problem if her name was Michael.” Ms. Meade subsequently informed the Township Council about her concerns regarding Chief Handschuch’s job performance, and the Township’s labor attorney concluded that discipline was appropriate but not termination of employment. The labor attorney further advised that Ms. Meade should “try to strengthen a termination case” with an independent, outside investigation. However, Ms. Meade testified that the Council did not authorize the hiring of an investigator. In addition, Ms. Meade certified that “Councilman Al Anthony . . . suggested to me that maybe Chief Handschuch did not like reporting to a woman and should report to him as the Mayor instead.”

The Township Council subsequently passed a resolution removing Ms. Meade for alleged performance-related issues. Ms. Meade subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination under the LAD, alleging that the Council terminated her and replaced her with a male Manager “to appease the sexist male Police Chief.” The trial court dismissed the lawsuit by granting the Township’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Ms. Meade was terminated for poor performance and that there was no record of gender discrimination. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision. The Supreme Court, however, reversed the decision and remanded the matter to the trial court. In so doing, the Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence “for a reasonable jury to find that what Livingston Township Councilmembers perceived to be Police Chief Handschuch’s discriminatory attitude toward Township Manager Meade influenced the Council’s decision to terminate her, in violation of the LAD.”  Specifically, the Supreme Court held that “a reasonable jury could conclude – in the combined light of Meade’s evidence challenging the legitimacy of the other areas of dissatisfaction and the Council’s focus on the difficulties with Handschuch – that Meade’s gender played a role in the termination.”

This opinion reiterates that employers may be held liable for the alleged discriminatory actions of non-decisionmakers. If you have any questions about this decision and/or need any assistance with employment law issues, please contact [nap_names id=”FIRM-NAME-1″].

*Frank A. Custode is a Partner of [nap_names id=”FIRM-NAME-1″] and the Chair of the firm’s Employment Practice.

Treatment at work that could be discrimination based on gender

While working in New Jersey, you shouldn’t have to worry about your gender having a negative impact on your job. Unfortunately, discrimination takes place against males and females. If discrimination occurs, protections are available, in most situations, if a claim is filed. There are a few signs to look for if you suspect this kind of activity.

Making less money

One of the signs of discrimination is performing the same jobs that other employees perform but getting paid less because of your gender. The type of job doesn’t matter and often ranges from operating heavy equipment on the job to performing office duties. Another way that discrimination could occur in a similar fashion would be if someone were offered a raise after being on the job for the same length of time and you not being given the same opportunity because of your gender. Not getting a promotion to another job because of your gender could also fall into making less money as well.


Sometimes, you may need the support of a co-worker or an employer about an issue that you are having in the workplace. If you aren’t treated fairly or don’t get the same attention as someone who is of the other gender, then it could be discrimination. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination can extend to the owner of the company instead of stopping at the managerial level. Your supervisor may treat you as though you’re less competent if you approach the person with an issue because of your gender as well.

After being turned away from jobs and not reaching a higher salary than other workers who are not of your gender, you could approach an attorney who can offer assistance. A lawyer can speak with the employer and look at some of the details of your work history to determine if discrimination has occurred.

Biden administration’s new executive order combats discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation

On January 20, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 13988 (“EO 13988”) which expands the prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation.  In so doing, EO13988 relies on the 2020 United States Supreme Court decision of Bostock v. Clayton County, which holds that discrimination “because of . . . sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”   Thus, based on the reasoning set forth in Bostock, laws that prohibit sex discrimination also prohibit “discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, so long as the laws do not contain sufficient indications to the contrary.”

EEO 13988 further states that it is the policy of the Biden Administration “to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation” and “to address overlapping forms of discrimination.”  As such, most significantly, EO 13988 requires the heads of all federal agencies to “as soon as practicable and as appropriate and consistent with applicable law . . . consider whether to revise, suspend or rescind such agency actions, or promulgate new agency actions, as necessary to fully implement statutes that prohibit sex discrimination” and for the heads of all federal agencies to “as soon as practicable, also consider whether there are additional actions that the agency should take to ensure that it is fully implementing the policy” set forth in EO 13988.  Furthermore, EEO 13988 requires each agency head to consult with the Attorney General within 100 days of the date of the Order regarding “a plan to carry out actions that the agency has identified . . . as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.”

This is an important victory and an expansion of rights for those suffering from workplace discrimination due to gender identity and/or sexual orientation.  If you have any questions about EO 13988 and/or have any questions about workplace discrimination and/or harassment, please do not hesitate to contact Curcio Mirzaian Sirot LLC.

* Frank A. Custode, Esq. is a Partner and Chair of the Employment Practice at Curcio Mirzaian Sirot LLC.