When you file a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights (DCR), you are choosing to file a complaint with a state agency. There are several steps in the DCR process. You file a complaint. DCR will fully investigate the complaint. Then the investigator will recommend either that there is—or is not—probable cause to support your allegations. The DCR Director will review the investigation report, the investigator’s recommendation, and reach a finding. If the Director finds that probable cause exists to support the claim, the matter proceeds to the Office of Administrative Law where a hearing is conducted before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). A decision is issued by the ALJ. The DCR Director then decides whether or not to adopt the ALJ’s decision and findings. Your case ends when the DCR Director issues a final order. The following information is not intended to be exhaustive. If you have any questions, please contact a DCR office or review the regulations.
When you file a complaint with DCR, you are choosing to file a complaint with a state agency. You have chosen the “administrative track.” There are no jury trials and you must file within 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination. Alternatively, an aggrieved party may file a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court within two years of the alleged violation.
A person may initiate an action in Superior Court without first filing a complaint with DCR. However, filing a complaint in Superior Court bars the filing of a simultaneous complaint with DCR because a person may not process a complaint of discrimination simultaneously before DCR and in Superior Court.
A person who files an action in Superior Court is entitled to a jury trial. A successful litigant may be awarded reinstatement, hiring or upgrading and back pay as well as damages for pain and humiliation. In more egregious cases, an award of punitive (punishment) damages may be made. An award of attorney’s fees is also available to prevailing parties in Superior Court.
If, after investigation and an administrative hearing of a complaint, the Director determines that unlawful discrimination occurred, the Director can order the Respondent to take affirmative action to remedy the discrimination. The Director is authorized to order relief such as reinstatement, hiring, or upgrading of the employee, and may also award back pay and damages for pain and humiliation. Further, after the hearing, the Director may also award attorney’s fees to prevailing Complainants and may assess a statutory penalty against the Respondent.
Complaints must be filed with the Division on Civil Rights within 180 days after the alleged act of discrimination. If you would like to file a complaint, contact a regional office. We cannot accept complaints over the phone or via e-mail at this time.
Tips for Filing a Complaint
It is important that initial information given to DCR be as complete and accurate as possible. When a complaint is filed, it is helpful to bring the following information:
Once you arrive at the DCR office, you will meet with a DCR employee to discuss whether your claims implicate the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) or the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA). This process is called “intake.” If your claims are within the 180 day time period and implicate either the LAD or the FLA or both, then your complaint will be accepted. A DCR employee will assist in the preparation of a formal complaint. Once you file a verified complaint, you are known as the Complainant. The verified complaint will be sent to the other side (known as the Respondent) and DCR will demand an answer and response from the Respondent.
Mediation offers parties an opportunity to resolve complaints amicably in the early stages of the administrative process. After your verified complaint is filed with DCR, you may be sent to mediation. Mediation can occur at various stages during the process, such as, prior to the investigation phase, during the investigation phase, and other times during the process. When DCR determines that mediation is appropriate, parties to a complaint meet with an impartial, professionally trained mediator to discuss the case. Over the years, DCR has successfully resolved a significant number of matters through mediation because it allows both sides to reach a mutually-agreeable resolution and to avoid a potentially time-consuming and costly process.
Once a complaint is accepted and a response from the Respondent is provided, DCR will conduct an investigation. This process is referred to as the “investigation” phase. DCR will assign it to an investigator who may be a different investigator than the person involved during the intake phase. This investigator will typically request additional documents and information from the parties and interview witnesses and other people who may have relevant information. This investigator examines the allegations and responses in a thorough, objective, and timely manner. At the end of the investigation, the investigator reports his or her findings to the DCR Director and makes a recommendation. There are three possible outcomes of an investigation: 1) a finding of probable cause; 2) a finding of no probable cause; and 3) an agency determination:
Following the completion of the investigation, the Director must review the findings and recommendation to determine whether there is a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by facts and circumstances strong enough to warrant a cautious person to believe that the LAD or New Jersey Family Leave Act has been violated. If the Director has not made a probable cause determination within 180 days of the filing of the verified complaint, the complainant may request to litigate the case at the Office of Administrative Law either personally or through private counsel but not by a deputy attorney general.
Conciliation is a settlement technique where DCR works with the parties to obtain a remedy to adequately address alleged discrimination. If a finding of probable cause is issued, the parties attend a conciliation conference with a trained DCR negotiator to see if the matter can be resolved. If no agreement can be reached, the matter proceeds to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing on the merits.
If a finding of probable cause is issued, the case will be transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) where a full hearing will take place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The case may be litigated by a state deputy attorney general on behalf of the Division on Civil Rights or the complainant may choose to litigate the case personally or through private counsel. At the hearing, the Complainant and Respondent present evidence to the ALJ. The parties also present witnesses, which may include the parties themselves, to testify. After a full hearing, the ALJ will render what is called an “initial decision.” In the ALJ’s initial decision, he or she reviews the evidence and makes a determination whether a violation of the law has occurred and, if so, what remedies should be awarded. The DCR Director then reviews this initial decision and any objections filed by the parties. The DCR Director will then issue a final decision which may adopt the initial decision as rendered or modify it. The final order may also approve a settlement agreed upon by the parties, may dismiss the case with a determination that no violation occurred or find a violation did occur and order the award of appropriate damages which may include an assessment of penalties and other relief deemed proper by the Director.