When an employee sues, what law applies when they’ve worked in two states?

2016-07-12 16 45 37 Pennsylvania Welcomes You sign along northbound Interstate 83 entering Shrewsbury Township, York County, Pennsylvania from Maryland Line, Baltimore County, Maryland

Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I read a recent NJ federal court decision where a plaintiff began working for the defendant in New Jersey but later requested and received a transfer to Pennsylvania.

And that’s when things went awry.

The plaintiff alleged that, at an operation leadership meeting, he was “the target of several discriminatory comments relating to his age,” which he reported to HR. According to the plaintiff, the defendant treated him worse after complaining to HR.

Later, in the plaintiff’s first annual performance review meeting since reporting the allegations to HR, the defendant graded his performance as “poor,” placed him on a performance improvement plan, and informed him that he would not receive a pay increase or a previously-promised promotion.

Following the performance improvement plan, things went from bad to worse. Specifically, the plaintiff found the work environment “extremely hostile.” Following a second annual review since reporting the incident to HR, the plaintiff learned that the defendant declined again to promote him to Director of Operations. Three months later, the plaintiff resigned.

Then he sued for violations of NJ’s antidiscrimination and whistleblower laws?

But why would he do that?

Because NJ laws are more favorable than PA’s. For example, a plaintiff suing for a violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination does not have to exhaust administrative remedies first, can recover punitive damages, and gets a jury trial. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act does not check any of these boxes.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, has a longer statute of limitations and broader scope than its PA counterpart, the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law.

But an employee can’t pick and choose the laws under which he wants to sue his former employer. Instead, a court must apply the law(s) with the most significant relationship to the claims. Here, that’s Pennsylvania.

The plaintiff’s tenure with the defendant spanned two states. However, the harm he claimed to have suffered occurred in Pennsylvania, where he worked and lived. Conversely, the plaintiff failed to allege any facts suggesting that he was a New Jersey resident during the alleged unlawful conduct, that he experienced discrimination or retaliation while working in New Jersey, or that anyone from New Jersey supervised or directed any of the unlawful conduct toward him.

Although the plaintiff filed suit in New Jersey in a transparent attempt to forum shop, the Garden State seemingly had no prevailing interest in having its laws protect the plaintiff, as opposed to PA’s, which had the closest nexus to the underlying facts and circumstances.

Case dismissed.

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