A New Jersey police officer received good news regarding his civil service claim alleging racial discrimination recently. The Appellate Division gave his case new life, asserting that when a civil service employee provides proof of discrimination as strong as this worker did, then a hearing should be held to determine each side’s credibility, and failure to hold that hearing is arbitrary and unreasonable.
There are several hurdles to clear in order to succeed in any discrimination claim. You should be sure you have a knowledgeable New Jersey employment discrimination attorney on your side at every step in the process.
The employee, R.B., was a police officer with a force in South Jersey for 16 years. He applied several times for promotion to sergeant but was not successful. In 2014, he was fourth on the civil service exam result list and was bypassed for a white officer who was first. In 2016, he was second on the exam results list, and was rejected in favor of the first, third and fourth-highest examinees. The officer, who was African-American, sued for racial discrimination.
Of the trio promoted over R.B. in 2016, two allegedly had less seniority than R.B., two had less time serving as acting sergeant and one had disciplinary issues like once falling asleep on duty and complaints regarding his community interactions. R.B. allegedly had a spotless record and had received multiple honors for his work.
The city, on the other hand, asserted that R.B.’s last performance review contained within it concerns about his ability with regard to supervising others. The city also asserted that R.B.’s complaint understated the number of honors the promoted candidates had received and overstated the spotlessness of R.B.’s own record, alleging that R.B. had been busted twice for violating department rules.
Based on all that evidence, the civil service review board, without ever holding a hearing, ruled for the city and threw out the officer’s complaint.
What deference is and how it impacts your case
The officer appealed and the Appellate Division reversed the decision for the city. This officer’s win was an important lesson when it comes to something that the law calls “deference.” In general, the appeals courts will give deference to what the commission decides, and only overturn it if there was something glaringly wrong.
As the Appellate Division in R.B.’s case explained, that deference “largely emanates from our appreciation of the agency’s expertise combined with its opportunity to see and hear the witnesses when making credibility findings on disputed questions.”
In R.B.’s case, though, the commission never saw or heard witnesses. It never made credibility findings after an actual hearing. It simply looked at each side’s submission and made a final determination.
While some cases can be appropriately resolved without a hearing, R.B. had provided enough evidence to demonstrate “an air of pretextuality not easily disregarded.” When that happens, a hearing should be held to resolve those issues of credibility and relative persuasiveness. When it’s not held in a circumstance like this, that is unreasonable and requires reversal.
There are certain cases in which the odds of achieving success may seem like they’re against you, such as someone needing to appeal a ruling that is normally entitled to deference. Regardless of where you are in the process and what you think your odds are, don’t make the mistake of simply assuming that your situation is hopeless. Instead, reach out to a skilled attorney who can best lay out for you your options and your best path for success.
To discuss your case, contact the knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation, and to find out how our skillful and diligent attorneys can help you.