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  Overview

When you file a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights (DCR), you are choosing to file a complaint with a state agency. There are several steps in the DCR process. You file a complaint. DCR will fully investigate the complaint. Then the investigator will recommend either that there is—or is not—probable cause to support your allegations. The DCR Director will review the investigation report, the investigator’s recommendation, and reach a finding. If the Director finds that probable cause exists to support the claim, the matter proceeds to the Office of Administrative Law where a hearing is conducted before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). A decision is issued by the ALJ. The DCR Director then decides whether or not to adopt the ALJ’s decision and findings. Your case ends when the DCR Director issues a final order. The following information is not intended to be exhaustive. If you have any questions, please contact a DCR office or review the regulations.

 
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  File a Verified Complaint

Complaints must be filed with the Division on Civil Rights within 180 days after the alleged act of discrimination. If you would like to file a complaint, contact a regional office. We cannot accept complaints over the phone or via e-mail at this time. 

Once you arrive at the DCR office, you will meet with a DCR employee to discuss whether your claims implicate the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) or the New Jersey Family Leave Act (FLA). This process is called “intake.” If your claims are within the 180 day time period and implicate either the LAD or the FLA or both, then your complaint will be accepted.  A DCR employee will assist in the preparation of a formal complaint. Once you file a verified complaint, you are known as the Complainant. The verified complaint will be sent to the other side (known as the Respondent) and DCR will demand an answer and response from the Respondent.

 
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  Mediation

Mediation offers parties an opportunity to resolve complaints amicably in the early stages of the administrative process. After your verified complaint is filed with DCR, you may be sent to mediation. Mediation can occur at various stages during the process, such as, prior to the investigation phase, during the investigation phase, and other times during the process. When DCR determines that mediation is appropriate, parties to a complaint meet with an impartial, professionally trained mediator to discuss the case. Over the years, DCR has successfully resolved a significant number of matters through mediation because it allows both sides to reach a mutually-agreeable resolution and to avoid a potentially time-consuming and costly process.  

 
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  Investigation & Findings

Once a complaint is accepted and a response from the Respondent is provided, DCR will conduct an investigation. This process is referred to as the “investigation” phase. DCR will assign it to an investigator who may be a different investigator than the person involved during the intake phase. This investigator will typically request additional documents and information from the parties and interview witnesses and other people who may have relevant information. This investigator examines the allegations and responses in a thorough, objective, and timely manner. At the end of the investigation, the investigator reports his or her findings to the DCR Director and makes a recommendation. There are three possible outcomes of an investigation: 1) a finding of probable cause; 2) a finding of no probable cause; and 3) an agency determination:

  • A “Finding of Probable Cause” is issued when an investigation reasonably concludes that probable cause exists to credit the allegations of the Verified Complaint.
  • A “Finding of No Probable Cause” is issued when an investigation reasonably concludes that no probable cause exists to credit the allegations of the Verified Complaint. If a finding of no probable cause is issued, the case is closed without further proceedings by DCR. However, a finding of no probable cause is an appealable decision before the New Jersey Appellate Division.
  • An “Agency Determination” is issued when an investigation reasonably concludes that probable cause exists to credit some allegations of the verified complaint but that no probable cause exists with respect to other allegations contained in the verified complaint. Agency Determinations are considered findings of probable cause with respect to the credited allegations.

Following the completion of the investigation, the Director must review the findings and recommendation to determine whether there is a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by facts and circumstances strong enough to warrant a cautious person to believe that the LAD or New Jersey Family Leave Act has been violated. If the Director has not made a probable cause determination within 180 days of the filing of the verified complaint, the complainant may request to litigate the case at the Office of Administrative Law either personally or through private counsel but not by a deputy attorney general.

 
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  Conciliation

Conciliation is a settlement technique where DCR works with the parties to obtain a remedy to adequately address alleged discrimination. If a finding of probable cause is issued, the parties attend a conciliation conference with a trained DCR negotiator to see if the matter can be resolved. If no agreement can be reached, the matter proceeds to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing on the merits.

 
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  Hearing at the Office of Administrative Law (OAL)

If a finding of probable cause is issued, the case will be transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) where a full hearing will take place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The case may be litigated by a state deputy attorney general on behalf of the Division on Civil Rights or the complainant may choose to litigate the case personally or through private counsel. At the hearing, the Complainant and Respondent present evidence to the ALJ. The parties also present witnesses, which may include the parties themselves, to testify. After a full hearing, the ALJ will render what is called an “initial decision.” In the ALJ’s initial decision, he or she reviews the evidence and makes a determination whether a violation of the law has occurred and, if so, what remedies should be awarded. The DCR Director then reviews this initial decision and any objections filed by the parties. The DCR Director will then issue a final decision which may adopt the initial decision as rendered or modify it. The final order may also approve a settlement agreed upon by the parties, may dismiss the case with a determination that no violation occurred or find a violation did occur and order the award of appropriate damages which may include an assessment of penalties and other relief deemed proper by the Director.

 
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