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The state attorney general is bristling over being saddled with the costs of defending a fired Department of Labor official in a discrimination suit for his off-color ethnic remarks at a staff meeting. Harry Pappas was acting outside the scope of his employment as special assistant to the labor commissioner when he called immigrants “wetbacks” and “boat-jumpers,” the state argues. The Appellate Division disagreed and last year told the state to pick up the tab, leading to a recent confrontation at the state Supreme Court in Prado v. New Jersey, et al., A-33-05. Deputy Attorney General Patrick DeAlmeida argued that Pappas, by violating written guidelines that forbade use of ethnic or racial slurs, was acting outside the scope of his employment. “He was not authorized to make such comments,” said DeAlmeida, adding that it “sends a bad message” to let state employees know they will get free legal representation if they violate set policy. Justice Barry Albin asked what standard should determine when the state should provide a legal defense and when it shouldn’t. “I’m concerned about employees being cast adrift,” he said. DeAlmeida said the standard should be whether the attorney general’s denial of representation is an abuse of discretion. “Denials are very rare,” he noted. Pappas’ lawyer, Eric Kahn, of Springfield’s Javerbaum, Wurgaft, Hicks & Zarin, said public employees “should get the benefit of the doubt” when facing Law Against Discrimination charges. “My concern is the attorney general basically having an unfettered right to refuse,” said Kahn, without the accused employee being told why. Kahn noted that the state is already out of pocket, having settled claims by some employees who were at the meeting where the remarks were made. However, “our fees have not been paid,” he said.

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