In June 1991, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received a charge from a black employee of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC), complaining that white officers, supervisors, and managers had subjected him and other black employees to constant racial remarks and slurs. Pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC investigated the charge, found reasonable cause to believe that the allegations of racial harassment were true and, after attempting unsuccessfully to achieve a voluntary resolution of these matters, referred the charge to the Department of Justice. On December 2, 1993, the DOJ informed New Jersey that it had concluded that the NJDOC had engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against black employees, and outlined in some detail the flagrant use of racial insults directed against black employees and the white employees who supported them, along with other discriminatory acts.
On June 28,1994, after further unsuccessful attempts to achieve voluntary compliance, the United States filed this Title VII suit in the District Court of New Jersey. The DOJ sought injunctive relief, alleging that the defendant had violated Title VII by discriminating on the basis of race.
On September 19, 1994, the District Court (Judge Alfred M. Wolin) granted the DOJ's motion to consolidate the case with a private action that raised similar allegations (Smitherman v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, No. 93-cv-1683, also known as Holland v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, after Smitherman's death in February 1994). Also in September 1994, the United States filed a separate complaint alleging that the NJDOC had sexually harassed a female employee (United States v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, No. 94-cv- 4724). The employee was permitted to intervene in that action on behalf of herself and a class of female NJDOC employees who complained of sex discrimination and harassment. 1994 WL 507801 (D.N.J. Sept. 14, 1994).
With the assistance of a court-appointed mediator, the parties in all these actions drafted a consent decree to resolve the complaints. On May 10, 1996, the district court approved the settlement and entered it as a decree of the court. The settlement agreement, which included over $5 million in damages for the class members as well as a consent decree. The consent decree included broad prohibitions against discrimination and retaliation against African Americans and female employees and specific penalties for those engaging in such conduct. The decree also provided for a comprehensive overhaul of NJDOC's method of handling employee complaints of discrimination and retaliation, special training for NJDOC employees, reporting requirements regarding discrimination complaints and discipline, and implementation of a dispute resolution mechanism. The decree was set to last four years.
Several times over the original four year term of the decree, the plaintiffs had asked the district court to hold NJDOC in contempt for alleged extensive and serious violations which undermined the decree's objectives. As the decree was about to expire, the African-American and female employees of the NJDOC moved to extend the consent decree. The plaintiffs and the DOJ described numerous violations of the decree by the NJDOC. NJDOC acknowledged only one area of substantial non-compliance: the speed with which it completed its investigations of employee discrimination complaints.
On May 10, 2000, the District Court (Judge Pisano) granted the extension and the defendants appealed.
On April 4, 2001, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (Chief Judge Becker) reversed the district court's decision to extend the decree. Judge Becker held that the language of the consent decree did not give the district court power to extend the decree and that the district court's findings of fact were insufficient to justify its use of either its modification or compliance enforcement powers for extending the consent decree. Judge Becker remanded the case to the district court for specific factual findings regarding the need to extend the decree. 246 F.3d 267, 272 (3d Cir. 2001).
After further proceedings, on November 6, 2002, the District Court (Judge Pisano) amended the consent decree, which would expire on December 31, 2002. The amended consent decree is not available. It resolved all of the plaintiffs' claims except for the retaliation claims against an individual plaintiff. The parties settled this final claim and moved to dismiss the case. On May 23, 2005, Judge Pisano dismissed the case. Jane Wu - 11/25/2007
Jessica Kincaid - 02/26/2016