Q: Can there be a wrongful termination lawsuit in New Jersey when a cause of action on the basis of protected class is not present?
There is no generic wrongful termination cause of action in the state of New Jersey. The act has to be somehow linked to acts of management which are specifically proscribed by either the courts or by the legislature. For example, in negligence or tort law, you might have simple negligence. You may also have other specific types of causes of action within the negligence world, but you do not have that in the employment world where it is more specific. We get many calls regarding people who, on a visceral level, were wrongfully terminated for professing things that are unethical, immoral, or unprofessional. But those kinds of causes of action by themselves do not exist in New Jersey. They have to be specifically linked to behavior that the legislature or courts say is illegal.
For example, if management comes in one morning and just feels like firing someone for no reason at all and subsequently fires you even though you are the greatest and the longest-tenured employee in New Jersey, the fact that there is no real reason for the termination does not necessarily make these circumstances unlawful. Most companies are trying to run an efficient profitable business, so arbitrary decision-making like that does not happen very often. Nevertheless, it is possible that this kind of situation could arise and if that were the case without other factors, that person would have no recourse.
The behavior of management has to be something specifically proscribed by the legislature or the courts or else the termination in question will not be actionable as a matter of law.