In a 2007 case, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the “way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” While many — including members of the Supreme Court — disagree, his analysis serves as a reminder of two very important things. First, discrimination on the basis of race is illegal. Second, that previous sentence can be true even if the alleged victim is white. Regardless of your race or color, if you think you’ve been targeted for adverse treatment at work based on a protected characteristic, you should contact a knowledgeable New Jersey race discrimination lawyer to discuss your legal options.
One New Jersey township whose police department has a long history of alleged workplace discrimination is paying out once again in the aftermath of a Law Against Discrimination claim, according to the Asbury Park Press. In this instance, however, the plaintiff was a white man.
According to the lawsuit, two of the township’s committeemen — who were also members of the Police Oversight Committee — collaborated with a consultant and a lawyer to discriminate against the plaintiff, who was also the police chief.
The chief had some strong evidence on his side. In an email, the committeeman who also served as the chair of the police oversight committee stated that “moving forward I expect only Black candidates will be considered for the position of Neptune Chief of Police.”
After the chief launched his complaint, the township hired an outside lawyer to investigate the chief’s assertions. The lawyer concluded that the chief’s claims of a hostile work environment were valid and that the adverse actions targeting him were the result of “a motivation to replace him with an African-American.”
Based on that evidence, the chief was able to secure a sizable settlement. That settlement included a payout of $500,000, which comes on the heels of a separate $110,000 amount the chief received last year related to vacation days, sick leave, and comp time.
As noted above, the chief’s case is far from the first matter the township has faced related to discrimination and harassment in the police department. In 2020, the township settled with a female sergeant who alleged discrimination and harassment. Additionally, the first woman of color the department ever employed also sued and, like the sergeant, ended up securing a settlement in excess of $300,000.
‘Reverse Discrimination’ in New Jersey
Anyone potentially can be the victim of illegal discrimination if that discrimination occurs on the basis of a protected characteristic. That’s true if you’re a member of a historically marginalized group, but it’s also true if you’re a member of a race, gender, etc. that has not historically been the target of systemic racism/sexism/etc. A white worker can pursue a claim of race discrimination, a man can win a sex discrimination case, or a valid instance of sexual orientation discrimination under New Jersey law may conceivably target a heterosexual worker.
This sort of illegal conduct — often called “reverse discrimination” in the past — is potentially actionable both under New Jersey law and federal law. A few years ago, a white male computer scientist with the Federal Aviation Authority sued in federal court here in New Jersey and successfully obtained a settlement after accusing his employer of unfairly promoting women and people of color over him in pursuit of the agency’s affirmative action goals.
That allegedly included eight denied promotions in two years, seven of which went to women or people of color. In one of the eight instances, the agency allegedly promoted a Black woman who had 13 years less seniority and experience than the plaintiff had.
More recently, a white firefighter in Plainfield successfully landed a $450,000 settlement after alleging that the department refused to promote him to chief because he was white. According to the lawsuit, the existing chief, who was Black, asked Balck firefighters “if they could take orders from a white man,” but did not pose the reverse question to the department’s white firefighters.
Whether you’re male or female, gay or straight, U.S.-born or originally from another country, or young or old, you have the potential to be the victim of illegal workplace discrimination. If you think you’ve been punished because of your race, sex, age, sexual orientation, or another protected characteristic, the experienced New Jersey employment discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates can help. We have many years of helping harmed workers across the full spectrum of employment discrimination circumstances. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 530-4330 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.