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Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton, New Jersey. (Photo: NJ Courts).,

Racial discrimination suit against Attorney General’s Office can continue, judge rules

By Nikita Biryukov, February 15 2021 10:50 am

An equal pay suit alleging the state Office of the Attorney General underpaid and underpromoted non-white employees can continue in full, an Essex County Superior Court Judge ruled.

Judge Jeffrey Beacham denied a state motion seeking to dismiss claims filed by Diane Scott and Phillip Dowdell, who along with Burlington City Councilwoman Denise Hollingsworth sued the state in May 2017.

In its motion to dismiss, the state argued Dowdell and Scott lacked any merit because Dowdell received the highest salary of any employee in his position. Scott’s salary, the state said, mirrored those of other employees with her job title, as dictated by a collective bargaining agreement.

“Our clients are phenomenally qualified, distinguished and experienced attorneys, but for over a decade they had the humiliating experience of watching less-qualified white lawyers either start above them, or climb the ladder right on by them,” said their attorney, Linda Niedweske.

Beacham ordered the state to turn over a series of documents, including performance reviews, disparate impact statistics and compensation information.

He also ruled the state must release to the plaintiffs, in full, an independent 2016 report on allegations of racial discrimination in the Attorney General’s office. So far, the plaintiffs said, the state has released only a quarter of the 4,000-page report.

“The case was filed under the Christie administration, so with the new Governor and AG, I had hoped, maybe naively, for a kindred commitment to due process, a willingness to allow the evidence to lead us to justice,” Niedweske said. “Instead, we have been fought tooth and nail, every step of the way. You expect this from big corporations, you don’t expect this from the office tasked with protecting the rights of New Jerseyans.”

The latest amended complaint, filed last May, alleges the state violated by Law Against Discrimination and the Diane Allen Equal Pay Act by repeatedly promoting non-Black attorneys over the plaintiffs.

Universally, they claim the workers who received promotions were less qualified.

The state’s attorneys have sought a stay of the judge’s order and still have the option to appeal Beacham’s ruling.

“All we want is to get justice for our clients as quickly as possible so they can move forward with their lives,” Niedweske said. “If that leads to a fairer, more equitable agency in our justice system, every resident of New Jersey will be all the better for it.”

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