Anti-discrimination laws are designed to protect certain groups that are susceptible to harassment or discrimination from experiencing that type of prejudice in the workplace. In Pennsylvania and nationwide, employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of religion, which also extends to making sure other employees don't discriminate against their coworkers.
But what happens if an employee says he's being discriminated against because his coworkers think he is a member of a group that he is not? This happened to a Pennsylvania man working as a truck driver. He filed a lawsuit stating that coworkers harassed him for being Jewish, even though he is Lutheran.
A court in New Jersey said that the man is allowed to sue for this type of harassment, if the conduct rises to the level that a "reasonable Jew" would find offensive or upsetting. The court said that based on the allegations, it seems that the harassment would not have taken place "but for the perception that he was Jewish." This means that although the man is not a member of a protected class, he is still able to seek a remedy under this part of the law.
In most circumstances, people pursuing a lawsuit for discrimination are a member of the protected class. However, others who are not a member of a protected class may still experience harassment in the workplace. This ruling tells potential plaintiffs in New Jersey that they can sue for harassment even if the basis or subject matter of the harassment does not apply directly to them. It will be interesting to find out where this case goes, since it could have significant impact on other types of harassment or discrimination claims in other parts of the country including Pennsylvania.
Source: NBC New York, "NJ Court: Pa. Man Can Sue Over Anti-Semitic Slurs," April 22, 2012.