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The New Jersey state judiciary last week released new internal guidelines on handling EEO complaints for sexual harassment and other types of discrimination. The EEO Complaint Procedures Manual updates and details procedures for filing, investigating and deciding internal discrimination complaints. It supersedes parts of the courts’ May 2000 Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Master Plan. The courts’ anti-discrimination policy statement also has been revised, adding to the already protected categories of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, religion, disability or perceived disability, cellular or blood trait, marital status, sexual orientation and veteran status. The new categories are genetic testing and domestic partnership. They were added to reflect expanded DNA testing and the Domestic Partnership Act, effective this July. The anti-discrimination policy is meant to apply only to those who fit the statutory criteria, says court spokeswoman Tammy Kendig. The manual’s procedures cover complaints by court staff, litigants, witnesses, applicants for judiciary jobs and vendors against court personnel and agents, including state judges, who are also governed by the Canons of Judicial Conduct and Court Rules. The anti-discrimination policy applies to municipal courts but the procedures do not. There is no strict time limit for filing a complaint but the judiciary might choose not to act on one so old that it prejudices a fair investigation, says the manual. Resort to internal EEO mechanisms does not stop the clock running on alternative avenues of relief, the manual warns. Complaints must be filed with the Division on Civil Rights within 180 days and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days. The manual dispenses with the old, informal complaint procedure, though oral complaints are still allowed and informal resolution is still an option. The master plan requires that investigations be done within 45 days while the manual allows 100 days from complaint to investigator’s report and specifies report contents. Investigation reports go to the assignment judge, trial court administrator or central office senior manager. They must issue a final determination, including a remedy, within 15 days. An appeal must be filed within 15 working days with the administrative director, who has 30 days to decide. Previously, appeals were decided by a panel. COMPLAINTS AGAINST JUDGES The EEO manual contains special procedures for complaints against judges. They must be sent immediately to the administrative director of the courts and the vicinage assignment judge, the chief justice, or presiding appellate or tax judge. The administrative director decides whether to use internal procedures, go to the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct or use some combination of the two, and makes the final determination. Complaints filed by judges go to the chief justice or appropriate presiding judge. If the complaint is against one of those judges, it goes to the administrative director. The manual requires investigations be kept confidential “to the extent practical and appropriate under the circumstances.” Each witness statement must include an opening paragraph stating the witness was informed of the confidentiality of the process and agrees not to discuss it “with anyone who does not have a need to know.” Investigation reports are subject to only limited disclosure. A bold-faced note, however, emphasizes that confidentiality should not be applied “in a manner that impedes prompt action to remedy problems.” Authorized remedies run the gamut from an apology to back pay and promotion. Disciplinary action also can be brought against those responsible but complainants ordinarily will not be informed of and cannot appeal disciplinary action, which can include termination and referral to law enforcement authorities. The EEO master plan’s prohibition against retaliation was redrafted to make clear that it applies not just to those who file complaints but to anyone who opposes discrimination. The manual beefs up the prohibition with a warning that action will be taken against anyone who violates it. The policies were drawn up by a committee of judiciary staff members and approved by the Supreme Court on April 27. They also were passed by the Judicial Council, which includes the chairs of the conferences of presiding judges. Kendig describes the manual as part of the ongoing process of standardizing practices throughout the court system. The ACJC held hearings May 11 on charges that Passaic County Superior Court Judge Randolph Subryan violated judicial canons by kissing his law clerk and making gender-related comments. The hearings will resume May 26. Discovery is also proceeding against the state in a suit by Essex County Judge Francine Schott alleging gender bias in judicial assignments.

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