DCR Frequently Asked Questions
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What are the enforcement responsibilities of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights?
The Division enforces the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA).
What does the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibit?
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and certain business transactions. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed (religion), color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy or breastfeeding, sex, gender identity or expression, mental or physical disability (including AIDS and HIV infection), atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States, nationality, source of lawful income used for rental or mortgage payments (housing cases only), or because of the refusal to submit to a genetic test or make available the results of a genetic test to an employer (employment cases only). Not all characteristics are protected in all areas. The law also prohibits certain nursing homes or intermediate care facilities from discriminating against an individual because he or she is eligible for Medicaid.
What does the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) provide?
The NJFLA requires certain employers to provide eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off from work to care for or bond with a child within 1 year of the child’s birth or placement for adoption or foster care; care for a family member (a parent, grandparent, parent-in-law, child, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or any blood relative) or someone who is the “equivalent” of family, with a serious health condition (including a diagnosis of COVID-19) or who has been isolated or quarantined because of suspected exposure to a communicable disease (including COVID-19) during a state of emergency; or provide required care or treatment for a child during a state of emergency if their school or place of care is closed by order of a public official due to an epidemic of a communicable disease (including COVID-19) or other public health emergency.
What can I do if I believe my rights have been violated under these laws?
You may file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (Division) within 180 days of the date of the alleged violation. The complaint must be filed at one of the Division’s four regional offices. Please click on Contact DCRto find the office location closest to you. Alternatively, you may file a complaint in the Law Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey within two years of the alleged violation.
How is a complaint handled by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights?
After your complaint is accepted, the Division will serve it on Respondent (the individual and/or entity alleged to have discriminated against you or harassed you). The respondent must file an answer to the complaint and a position statement, setting forth its position on the allegations raised in the complaint. Your case will then be referred to mediation or assigned to an investigator. If your case is assigned to an investigator, he or she will conduct an investigation, which may include interviews, field visits, and the securing of medical and/or employment records. Based on the investigation, the Division’s Director will determine whether probable cause or no probable cause exists to believe the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination or New Jersey Family Leave Act has been violated. The Director will then issue a written finding and send it to the complainant and the respondent.
What if the Division's investigation reaches a finding of probable cause?
If there is a finding of probable cause, the complainant and the respondent are notified of the finding and the Division schedules a conciliation conference with the respondent and the complainant. The purpose of conciliation is to determine if the parties can settle the matter without the need for further proceedings. If the Division can work out an agreement with complainant and respondent, then the matter will be closed.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the Director will transmit the case to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing or will prosecute the case in Superior Court. In the OAL, a Deputy Attorney General may be assigned to prosecute the complaint on behalf of the Division, or the complainant may retain his/her own counsel. After the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will render an initial decision which can be accepted, modified, or rejected by the Director.
If the initial decision is accepted, the Director will issue an order adopting the decision. If the initial decision is rejected, the Director may reverse the findings of the ALJ or remand (send back) the case to the ALJ for further consideration.
If my case is successful, what remedies and/or damages can the Director order?
The Director, among other things, can order the respondent to: cease and desist from engaging in the unlawful conduct; hire, promote, or reinstate the complainant into a position; pay the complainant back pay or damages for pain and humiliation; reimburse the complainant for loss of fringe benefits; and restore health benefits, pension benefits, and/or seniority rights. The Director may also award attorney’s fees and assess penalties of up to $10,000 for a first offense, $25,000 for a second offense, and $50,000 for a third offense under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and up to $2,000 for the first violation and $5,000 for any subsequent violation of the New Jersey Family Leave Act. The final order of the Director may be appealed to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, located in Trenton. A notice of appeal must be filed with the Appellate Division within 45 days of the Director’s Order.
What if the Division reaches a finding of no probable cause in my case?
You may file an appeal with the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. The notice of the appeal must be filed within 45 days of the date you are served with the Division’s finding. Alternatively, under narrowly defined circumstances and time constraints, a complainant may file a written motion with the Director asking the Director to reconsider a finding of no probable cause or reopen the matter.
Can I go directly to court with my complaint?
Yes. Under the LAD and FLA, an individual may initiate an action in Superior Court without first filing a complaint with the Division. Prosecution of your claim in Superior Court, however, bars the simultaneous filing of a complaint with the Division or the further processing of a complaint which has already been filed with the Division. If you file an action in Superior Court, you are entitled to a jury trial and, if you win your case, a judge or jury may award you compensatory damages (such as back pay, reinstatement, promotion, pain and humiliation) and punitive damages.
What if, after I have filed my complaint with the Division, I decide I do not want my complaint investigated by the Division?
You may withdraw your complaint from the Division at any time, and, if otherwise permitted by law, file a civil lawsuit in state or federal court, provided the Division has not already found that the complaint lacks probable cause. At least 180 days after filing your complaint, you may also request the Division to transfer your case to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing, and at the hearing you can present your case personally, or you can obtain an attorney to represent you. Your case will not be transferred to the Office of Administrative Law when the Director of the Division has reached a finding of no probable cause or the complaint has been otherwise dismissed.
Do I need a lawyer to represent me before the Division?
No. You may choose to retain an attorney, but an attorney is not required.
Why can't I open the file I downloaded from this site?
The file you downloaded might be a PDF (Portable Document Format) document. You may need to download the latest version of Adobe’s (FREE) Acrobat Reader in order to correctly view and print PDF files.
If I am fired for unlawful reasons under the LAD or the FLA, do I have an obligation to find other employment while my case is being reviewed by the Division?
Yes. In the event that you are ultimately successful in your claim, your damages award, if any, may be reduced to the extent that you did not take reasonable steps to mitigate (lessen) your damages by seeking other employment. If you are unable to find other employment, you should at least be able to provide detailed documentation of your attempts to do so.