Sexual Harassment Between Two Companies

Elizabeth Zuckerman, an excellent plaintiff’s employment lawyer based out of Princeton, NJ, just won an important decision in the case of J.T.’s Tire Service v. United Rentals North America, Inc., A-2989. According to the Appellate Division, an owner/operator of a business can sexually harass another business owner and be sued for discrimination.

Ms. Zuckerman’s client was a female-owned business that sold tires to United Rentals. The business owner claimed that her company had been doing business with the Piscataway branch of United Rentals North America, a national equipment rental company, for approximately ten years. The female business owner alleged that in 2005, United Rentals’ branch manager began pressuring her for a sexual relationship and, when she refused, stopped doing business with her until she agreed to have lunch with him. In 2007, the sexual advances became physical. When the female business owner rejected these advances, the rental company delayed its payments to her and then ceased doing business with her altogether.

The plaintiff filed her complaint under section 10:5-12(l) of the Law Against Discrimination, which makes it illegal to “refuse to buy from, sell to, lease from or to, license, contract with, or trade with, provide goods, services or information to, or otherwise do business with any other person” on the basis of gender or other LAD-protected categories. In January 2008, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Edward Ryan granted United Rentals’ motion to dismiss, finding that this type of harassment was not covered by the statute.

The Appellate Division disagreed with Judge Ryan, and reversed his ruling. Said the Court: “Where, as here, the harassment consists of sexual overtures and unwelcome touching or groping, it is presumed that the conduct was committed because of the victim’s sex.” Further, the Court stated “we have no hesitation in concluding that quid pro quo sexual harassment violates subsection (l).”

I obtained a ruling based on subsection (l) several years ago in an age discrimination case entitled Rubin v. Chilton Hospital. Independent contractors are protected against discriminatory firings . . . and now, quid pro quo sexual harassment.