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MORRIS COUNTY PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE SUED FOR RACIAL DISCRIMINATION: What We Can Learn About Racial Discrimination from the Complaint

October 24, 2019

 

On October 17, 2019, two employees of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office filed a Complaint in federal court alleging that they were the victims of racial discrimination in the workplace.  The men collectively claim that under the administration of Prosecutor Frederic Knapp, performance evaluations have been used as an arbitrary tool to “discredit, disparage, remove from promotional consideration, and retaliate against those they do not like.”  “Those they do not like,” states the Complaint, “are almost always minorities.”  They allege that under the Knapp Administration, there has been a disproportionate number of minorities receiving poor performance evaluations, punitive transfers, denial of training opportunities, denial of promotions, and aggressive disciplinary action. 


Dillard alleges that the poor evaluations against him began as retaliation for complaints about racially charged language used by co-workers.  Dillard claims that co-workers repeatedly referred to minorities as “scum” and “those people.”  After reporting these racially-charged comments to his supervisors, Dillard received the first of his negative work evaluations, which characterized him as “antisocial.”  Dillard then filed a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights, which was substantiated.  According to the Complaint, the Civil Rights Division found that Dillard “met the requirements to file an unlawful retaliation charge because Plaintiff Dillard complained of racially-charged derogatory language and was subject to low performance evaluations that negatively impacted his ability to receive a promotion.”  The Civil Rights Division determination got Dillard the promotion to Captain that he was looking for, but he was immediately sent out on loan to the New Jersey State Police as a Task Force Officer, an assignment typically given to young detectives in the beginning of their careers.  Dillard claims that this was a part of a pattern of punitive transfers that were disproportionately meted out on minorities. 


For King, the problem had more to do with Internal Affairs investigations rather than performance reviews.  King tried to resign on October 15, 2019 but was told that he could not do so because there were pending Internal Affairs investigations that called for his termination.  King alleges that the use of the Internal Affairs Investigations was also retaliation for his “becoming vocal about racial discrimination within the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.”  King points to other Internal Affairs complaints against white employees which were stalled while investigation against black employees were aggressively pursued.


The Complaint uses the trifecta of methods that plaintiffs can use to pursue claims of racial discrimination: disparate treatment, hostile work environment, and retaliation.  Disparate treatment exists when members of a particular racial group are singled out for inferior treatment because of their race.  In this Complaint, the Plaintiffs allege that black employees were subject to punitive transfers, low performance reviews, fewer training opportunities and promotion opportunities, and aggressive disciplinary scrutiny.   A hostile work environment exists when hostilities based on race are so “severe and pervasive” that a reasonable person of the same race would believe that the terms and conditions of employment have been altered and the environment has become abusive or hostile.  The Plaintiffs in this case begin to complain of a hostile work environment with racially-charged comments.  In addition to the “scum” and “those people” comments of which Dillard complained, King complains that a co-worker showed him a black man’s arrest photograph and told King “It’s like looking in the mirror isn’t it?”  King also alleges that white employees told him to “pull a chair and sit outside the room” while white employees ate their breakfast.   Finally, the Plaintiffs complain of retaliation.  When a person complains about racial discrimination, those complaints are protected.  An employee who makes such a complaint and then suffers an adverse employment action has made a prima facie showing of retaliation.  The retaliation additionally contributes to the hostile work environment, as does the disparate treatment.


If you believe you have been the victim of racial discrimination in the form of disparate treatment, hostile work environment, or retaliation, you should consult with an attorney.  Michael Poreda has nine years of experience handling racial discrimination claims and is ready to provide you with a consultation.  

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October 31, 2019

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