A Pennsylvania man who isn't Jewish but claims he endured anti-Semitic slurs at work can sue his former supervisors under New Jersey's anti-discrimination laws, a state appellate court has ruled.
The panel did not consider the merits of Myron Cowher's case, only whether he has standing to pursue it. Experts say the court's decision is significant because it expands the scope of who can bring discrimination suits by allowing a person who is not actually a member of a protected class to pursue a claim.
A state Superior Court judge had dismissed the lawsuit Cowher filed against the Lafayette firm where he worked as a truck driver, finding that the Dingmans Ferry man could not sue under those laws because he is not Jewish.
However, in its recently issued 3-0 ruling, the appellate panel found that if Cowher could prove the discrimination "would not have occurred but for the perception that he was Jewish," his claim is covered under anti-discrimination laws.
The "proper question" in this case, the court wrote, is what effect the supervisors' allegedly derogatory comments would have on "a reasonable Jew," rather than on a person of Cowher's actual background, which is German-Irish and Lutheran.
The alleged slurs occurred from January 2007 until May 2008, when Cowher left the construction company due to an unrelated disability. Lawyers for the firm claim the remarks were joking, locker-room banter in which Cowher allegedly "willingly participated" with other employees.