Comments About Jewish Officer’s Nose Not Religious Harassment

Jason Cutler is a Jewish police officer working for the Borough of Haddonfeld, New Jersey. Cutler brought a lawsuit against the Borough alleging that he was the victim of a hostile work environment based upon his religion. Though a jury found in Cutler’s favor, it awarded him zero damages and declined to assess punitive damages against the Borough. A series of cross appeals from both the Borough and Cutler resulted.

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed the jury’s determination that Cutler was the victim of a hostile work environment. The Court found that the following standards applied under New Jersey law to claims for a hostile work environment: (1) The conduct complained of was unwelcome; (2) that it occurred because of the employee’s inclusion in a protected class; and (3) that a reasonable person in the same protected class would consider the conduct sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

The Court concluded that Cutler’s allegations fell far short of this threshold. Essentially, Cutler’s allegations were that one co-worker made a comment about “dirty Jews” in his presence, that his supervisors referred to his “Jewish nose,” that statements were made that Jews “make all the money” or were good at math, and that someone had placed an Israeli flag on his locker.

In the Court’s view, “the incidents were infrequent. Until the ‘dirty Jews’ comment, Cutler never objected or complained, which is strong evidence that he acquiesced in the activities as part of the give and take in which he regularly participated. The Police Department is relatively small and had been populated by an ‘in-group’ of officers and some supervisors who delighted in playing pranks, teasing, ribbing, and breaking each other’s chops. Cutler participated to at least some extent. Humor files, containing offensive material, were well-known and made available for perusal for those who wished to indulge, including Cutler. Given the totality of the circumstances, the comments and pranks were sporadic and not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.”

Cutler v. Dorn, 915 A.2d 65 (N.J.App. 2007).

This article appears in the May 2007 issue