Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced today the filing of a Division on Civil Rights (DCR) complaint alleging that the City of Millville violated the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by discriminating against Hispanic or Latinx/e litigants based on their actual or perceived national origin.
The complaint filed today alleges that, between June and December 2022, the Millville Municipal Court required litigants who were or were perceived to be Spanish-speaking to appear at in-person court proceedings instead of permitting them to appear virtually for court sessions. This practice denied those litigants equal access to virtual court proceedings in the City of Millville.
The complaint was filed by Attorney General Platkin and DCR Director Sundeep Iyer against the City of Millville following a months-long investigation conducted by DCR. The investigation was initiated after Municipal Court Judge Jason Witcher made public allegations of discrimination in the Millville Municipal Court in December 2022.
As the complaint explains, defendants with Hispanic surnames were almost twice as likely as defendants with non-Hispanic surnames to be scheduled for an in-person court appearance, after controlling for other relevant factors.
“New Jersey’s laws forbid discrimination on the basis of national origin. That anyone in the City of Millville had to face discrimination from any public entity is disappointing, disheartening, and unacceptable,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Such practices only serve to erode the public’s trust. New Jersey is committed to eliminating discrimination, no matter where it occurs.”
“Public trust depends on the promise that our public institutions will treat all people equally. Discrimination undermines that promise, and it violates our civil rights laws,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “The complaint we are announcing today reflects our ongoing commitment to ensuring that our institutions of public trust treat all New Jerseyans fairly and equally.”
Beginning in June 2022, Millville Municipal Court began to conduct in-person court sessions on Mondays and virtual court sessions on Wednesdays. The Court schedules a Spanish language interpreter to provide Spanish interpretation services for two Monday in-court sessions each month. Although a virtual interpretation service was available for litigants who did not speak English, that service was rarely used for Spanish speakers at virtual hearings. While the in-person interpreter’s services were available on only 25% of the days that court was in session between June 13, 2022 and December 31, 2022, the in-person interpreter provided Spanish interpreting services for 95% of court appearances by litigants who needed Spanish interpreting services during that time. The virtual interpretation service therefore provided Spanish interpreting services for less than 5% of court appearances by litigants who needed Spanish interpreting services during that time.
The complaint explains that maintaining a practice of scheduling litigants who were or were perceived to be Hispanic or Latinx/e for in-person sessions when the Spanish-language interpreter was available harmed these litigants, requiring them to take additional time off work, incur additional travel expenses, and arrange childcare.
DCR is represented in this matter by Deputy Attorney General Olivia Mendes of the Affirmative Civil Rights Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Mayur Saxena and Interim Section Chief James Michael. The investigation was led by DCR’s Senior Advisor for Affirmative Enforcement Danielle Thorne, with assistance from Legal Specialist Lubna Qazi-Chowdhry and Investigator Milangely Lopez, under the supervision of Associate Director for Affirmative Enforcement Malcolm Peyton-Cook and Chief Advisor to the Director Aarin Williams.
DCR is the state agency responsible for preventing and eliminating discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation (e.g., places open to the public like courts, schools, businesses, hospitals). DCR enforces the LAD, the New Jersey Family Leave Act and the Fair Chance in Housing Act.