Yes. It may be deemed to be harassment under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. As experienced restraining order lawyers, the attorneys at our firm understand that harassment cases are the most fact sensitive and therefore difficult cases that we handle in New Jersey Family Courts. Having said that, the following case, in this lawyer’s legal opinion, is a clear case of harassment amounting to domestic violence.
In very recent case of C.G. v. E.G., the Honorable Judge Jones of Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part of Ocean County reviewed the issue of whether intentional economic abuse is a form of domestic violence. Judge Jones found E.G.’s attempt to interfere with C.G.’s employment constituted a form of purposeful harassment and coercion, which warranted the entry of a final restraining order, as per the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. This law is meant to assure victims of the basic protection of the right to be left alone. Judge Jones explained that this right is even more important when that person is at work.
C.G. and E.G. were separated spouses. Even though C.G. was receiving Social Security Disability benefits, she wanted to get back to work and resume her previous job as a waitress. While she was trying to get back on her feet and re-enter the work force, for the past month she had been receiving threatening text messages from her estranged husband, such as “. . . I’ve only begun to fuck with you,” and “my new mission is to fuck you up. You’re done, don’t go to work, your services are looking for you.”
C.G. testified that during the last month, she got in touch with her previous employer and got her job back. However, she alleged that since getting her job back, E.G. had been intentionally trying to interfere and block her new job, by calling her boss as well as her boss’s wife, and trying to embarrass and shame C.G. by alleging that she was having an affair with her boss.
C.G. also alleged that in the past E.G. would constantly insult her and call her names like “piece of shit” and “cunt.” She further testified that several years ago he had even punched her and given her a black eye. As such, she requested the court to enter a final domestic violence restraining order against him. During the final hearing, even though E.G. did not admit that C.G.’s allegations were true, he still failed to provide any credible opposition, defense or alternative version of the events for the Family Part to consider. In the end, the Family Part found C.G.’s testimony and version of the facts to be persuasive, and that E.G. was inappropriately trying to hinder her job.
Judge Jones explained that domestic violence is not always physical, and non-physical domestic violence can be just as harmful as physical forms of abuse. One form of non-physical domestic violence is economic harassment, which includes purposeful actions done with the intent to either: obstruct or impair a person’s prospective or actual job, or threaten to do for the purpose of controlling someone, or intimidating or pressuring someone into submitting to their wishes or demands.
In terms of domestic violence, the actions of an ex-spouse or ex-partner to interfere with, obstruct or threaten to endanger the other ex-spouse or partner’s job and economic stability can induce just as much fear in a victim as actual physical abuse. Judge Jones reasoned that there are few threats that could be more potentially coercive or harassing as threatening a person’s employment or livelihood. Any potential damage to a person’s career or livelihood by an estranged, controlling, or vindictive ex-partner purposeful and wrongful acts can reasonably hurt a victim, and logically cause distress and anxiety, and thus constitute economic abuse.
There are many ways in which an ex-spouse or ex-spouse might coercively and improperly attempt to dominate, control, intimidate, or pressure the other ex-spouse or ex-partner by purposefully and directly interfering with his or her job. This may include: (1) explicitly threatening to contact the ex-spouse or ex-partner’s work, and trying to get him or her fired, by either making false allegations, or inappropriately trying to publicize personal, private, and embarrassing information about the victim; (2) actually contacting an ex-spouse or partner’s workplace and going through with acts done to damage the victim’s reputation, status, or stability at his or her job; or (3) constantly showing up at a victim’s place or work, uninvited, and cause a disturbance, or acting in way that is disrespectful or embarrassing to the victim and disrupts that victim’s job performance and responsibilities, or the standard business operations.
Many times an estranged partner or spouse decides to constantly call an ex-partner or ex-spouse’s employer, or start appearing at their workplace, uninvited, as way to harass the intended victim, or coercively corner him or her into interacting or submitting to specific demands. In such a situation, a perpetrator might think that the intended victim might feel forced into speaking with him or her, just to avoid the potential embarrassment of an upsetting public scene that could have a negative impact on that person’s status and reputation at work. In this case, the intrusion occurred over the phone, and spread not just the employer, but also the employer’s wife, and could have spread to other members of the employer’s family or friend group.
In an ongoing abusive or hostile relationship between former or current dating partners or spouses, the before-mentioned intrusions might constitute coercion as well as harassment. Clearly, no employee would want an estranged partner to contact his or her job and making malicious, nasty, or unwelcome comments.
Economic abuse is steadily becoming more recognized as a form of domestic violence. According to the Department of Justice, “domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotion, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. Furthermore, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there are numerous forms of economic abuse that can include, interfering with a person’s work performance with harassing activities, like constant phone calls or uninvited visits.
Moreover, The New Jersey Supreme Court recognizes that the law is meant to assure victims of the basic protection of the right to be left alone. Judge Jones explained that this right is even more important when that person is at work. As a matter of decency and fairness, people are expected to respect and honor the line of sanctity of a former spouse’s job or workplace. When a person intentionally violates a former partner’s space and rights in this way, without a objectively acceptable and legitimate reason, he or she demonstrates not only a level of selfishness, and lack of self-control, but also a basis disregard for the victim, and the victim’s employer, co-employees, customers, and clients.
In C.G. v. E.G., the evidence supported a finding that E.G. called C.G.’s place of work, against her wishes, with the intent of either causing her harm or wearing her down into submission, as evidenced by his text message. When he was acting in this way, he knew or should have knew that he was inappropriately intruding on his estranged wife’s new job, while also subjecting her to public shame in front of her boss and co-workers. E.G.’s actions constituted harassment under the totality of the circumstances and New Jersey Statute 2C:33-4. His actions fit within the spirit of Domestic Violence Act, which was intended to protect victims from this type of constant and unfair harassment, economic abuse, and threatening behavior. Therefore, Judge Jones determined that a final restraining order was warranted under the facts and circumstances of the case.
As our law firm handles many restraining order and domestic violence cases, your inquiry is invited.