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Three women lawyers who investigate ethics complaints for the Office of Attorney Ethics have accused New Jersey’s lawyer-disciplinary agency of gender and racial bias. The complaint in Cox v. Office of Attorney Ethics, filed in federal court March 22, alleges a “caste system” where women are routinely hired in a lower job classification and assigned to a “holding pen” while less-qualified men are routed into a higher pay grade, bigger salaries and easier promotions and given better equipment. The plaintiffs, Margaret Cox, Theresa Hubal and Susan Perry-Slay, say that “nearly complete domination” of upper management by males has produced an “old boys” atmosphere. They also claim a hostile environment characterized by “open hostility to and disrespect of female employees.” For example, Hubal allegedly heard inappropriate comments about whether she was pregnant and about the attractiveness of women’s legs. The complaint further charges that Perry-Slay, the sole African-American employed by the office, also faced racial bias in the form of exclusion from training and social events open to her white colleagues and exposure to racist e-mail messages. Her treatment was allegedly part of a “long-standing pattern of discrimination against non-Caucasians” that affected at least six other employees. Though a law degree is not required for the investigator job, the three plaintiffs hold JDs and two had clerked for judges, qualifying them for hiring at the level of Administrative Specialist-4, says the complaint. Instead, they were hired at the AS-3 level, while white males, even those without law degrees, were hired at the AS-4 level, where the pay scale starts about $13,000 higher, they allege. Women and minorities were typically assigned to the District Unit, which investigates cases and grievances from certain ethics districts, while white men usually went to the Complex Unit, which handles misappropriation and other serious and complex cases. The suit, filed by Richard Schall of Moorestown, N.J.’s Schall & Barasch, asserts violations of the federal Equal Pay Act and the state Law Against Discrimination. One of the other minority employees mentioned in the complaint, who did not want to be identified, says he left the OAE after twice being told not to bother applying for a promotion, despite his multiple professional degrees. Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, declines to comment on the litigation.

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