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How a White New Jersey Police Dispatcher Came to Endure Anti-Black Harassment at Work… and Won a Settlement Because of It

Race discrimination and color discrimination can come in many different forms. It may be based upon your race, or it may be based on your family and other close relationships (like having a biracial child or a partner of a different race), or it may be based on something else altogether. Any of these kinds of discrimination, if they have harmed you at work, can potentially be the basis for a successful lawsuit under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. If it’s happened to you, you should get in touch with an experienced New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer right away.

Most all of us are familiar with what the term “racism” means. What is less well-known, but can be just as injurious, is “colorism,” when one person or group discriminates based upon skin color as opposed to racial classification. Generally, it involves situations where people of darker skin are treated less favorably than people of lighter skin. (In other words, favoring a lighten-skinned Black person over a darker-skinned Black person, or favoring a lighter-skinned Latino person over a darker-skinned Latino.)

Other times, a person may suffer discrimination due to their darker skin, even if they are not a member of any sort of racial minority. Even if you’re not Black or Latino, it can still be illegal discrimination, as allegedly was the case with a police dispatcher in Monmouth County recently.

Black men and women are, unfortunately, all too familiar with the many forms of discriminatory images, cartoons, and jokes that occur in the workplace with some frequency. Whether it is a noose, the N-word, the use of the word “monkey,” or Ku Klux Klan hoods, it is more than offensive, it is damaging and possibly illegal.

The police dispatcher whose lawsuit recently settled, according to, experienced many of those forms of harassment. There was a cartoon with two police officers in Klan robes inside a police cruiser, in addition to other “racist and sexually-explicit cartoons” posted where the dispatcher would see. Then there were all the times police officers called him “monkey.”

What made the dispatcher’s case unique was that he was not Black; he was an Italian-American white man who happened to have a dark complexion that was made darker still due to “diabetes-related darkening of his skin.” The harassment the dispatcher allegedly endured related specifically to his being a white man with unusually dark skin, including such names as “half-black” and “black legs,” along with comments like “you look like a black guy.”

All of that evidence was enough to persuade the township government to settle the case, agreeing to pay an amount not disclosed publicly.

Sometimes, Being a Member of a Protected Group is Not the Key Fact

What the dispatcher’s case, and successful settlement, represent is a very important (albeit sometimes overlooked) aspect of discrimination law. That aspect is this: to demonstrate a violation of the Law Against Discrimination and have a winning discrimination case, the key not so much establishing that you are a member of a protected group, it is rather proving that you suffered some adverse employment action that occurred because of some attribute that is covered by the law.

In the dispatcher’s case, he was not a Black man, but he was a man who was subjected to harassment and discrimination because of his dark skin.

Similarly, you can have – and can win – a disability discrimination case even if you have no recognized disability at all. If your evidence establishes that your employer thought that you had a disability and took negative action against you because of that belief, then that’s actionable disability discrimination under the law.

Very similar standards apply in cases of sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy discrimination cases. If you have proof that you were fired, not hired, demoted, given a negative performance review, suspended, or otherwise treated negatively at work because someone thought you were gay (or trans or pregnant,) then you possibly have the makings of a successful sexual orientation (or gender identity or pregnancy) discrimination case, even if that belief about your sexual orientation (or gender identity or pregnancy status) was completely inaccurate.

The important thing isn’t what you are or are not; it is what motivated your employer. If that motivation was based upon a protected characteristic (like sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy status,) then that is possibly a violation of the law.

If you’ve encountered discrimination at work that was based upon a protected characteristic, or someone’s else perception about your membership in a protected group, then you may be able to secure significant compensation through legal action. Look to the experienced New Jersey race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to advocate tirelessly on your behalf and help you get everything you deserve. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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