TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights have issued a Finding of Probable Cause (FPC) against a local healthcare billing company for creating a hostile work environment for one of its employees.
The FPC was filed against Metropolitan Healthcare Billing of Eatontown after the company fired a lesbian employee for complaining after her supervisor made a comment about her “gaydar” during a meeting.
The complainant is employee Brandy Rodriguez who was employed with the company as an account representative for two-and-a-half years before being fired in 2016.
“Employers are responsible for creating and maintaining a work environment where all employees are treated with equality, dignity and respect, regardless of their membership in a protected class,” said Attorney General Grewal. “It is not acceptable for employers to retaliate against workers who invoke their legal rights and report discriminatory conduct.”
During a team meeting in October 2016, the Director of Business Operations, also Rodriguez’s direct supervisor, stated that Rodriguez could use her “gaydar” to determine whether or not a new client was a lesbian. Present at the meeting was not only the supervisor’s entire staff but also a new employee, unaware of Rodriguez’s sexual orientation.
Rodriguez, embarrassed by her supervisor’s comment, responded that she thought it was inappropriate. She later emailed her supervisor stating that the remark was “unprofessional” and made her feel “uncomfortable,” noting that she preferred to share this personal information with new employees on her own terms.
Later that same day, Rodriguez and her supervisor discussed the incident in person. Her supervisor felt that is was acceptable to make the joke at the meeting because she’d previously overheard Rodriguez herself joking about her sexuality, and using the term “gaydar” in the workplace.
Rodriguez’s supervisor’s sister is also employed as Human Resources Coordinator at Metropolitan.
When Rodriguez then attempted to take her complaint to the owner of the company, her supervisor fired her immediately.
“Here, Complainant’s supervisor not only outed Complainant to a new employee during an all-staff meeting and indicated that a client’s sexual orientation would somehow be relevant to her business, she also immediately fired Complainant after she raised concern about the incident, “ said Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter.
“And because the Human Resources Coordinator was the supervisor’s sister, Complainant had nowhere else to report the incident,” Apter added. “Employers need to be aware of what constitutes discrimination and retaliation under the LAD, and make sure they have mechanisms in place that ensure that the individual accused of discriminatory conduct is not the person charged with investigating her or his own conduct.”
In the FPC, it describes the supervisor’s comments as “sufficiently severe that a reasonable employee in Complainant’s position could find her work environment hostile or abusive.”
A Finding of Probable Cause does not resolve a civil rights complaint. Rather, it means the State has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) has been violated.