AG Platkin, Division on Civil Rights Announce $575K Settlement for Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Jackson Township

Township Accused of Discrimination Against Orthodox Jewish Residents in Land Use Dispute

In a recent announcement, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) revealed the resolution of a lawsuit against Jackson Township. The lawsuit alleged that the Township violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by using zoning and land use powers to discriminate against Orthodox Jewish residents and impede their religious practices. The settlement, approved by the Superior Court, includes provisions that prohibit the Township from engaging in discriminatory behavior and require the adoption of new policies and procedures that protect religious freedom.

The consent order, part of the settlement, imposes a $575,000 penalty on the Township. This penalty comprises $275,000 in penalties, a $150,000 restitution fund for those harmed by the Township’s actions, and an additional $150,000 in suspended penalties that may be assessed if the Township fails to comply with the consent order. Additionally, the consent order mandates ongoing monitoring of the Township’s adherence to the LAD.

The initial complaint filed by the DCR in 2021 alleged that Jackson Township deliberately targeted the growing Orthodox Jewish population through discriminatory land use ordinances and enforcement practices. Some of the alleged discriminatory actions include surveillance of Orthodox Jewish homes, selective targeting of communal Jewish prayer gatherings, hindrance of the construction of sukkahs (structures used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot), and the banning of yeshivas and dormitories.

Attorney General Platkin expressed his commitment to eradicating discrimination and bias in New Jersey, stating, “No one in New Jersey should face discrimination for their religious beliefs… We are firmly committed to eliminating discrimination and bias across our state, and we expect local leaders to comply with our robust antidiscrimination laws.”

Sundeep Iyer, the Director of the Division on Civil Rights, also emphasized the importance of protecting religious freedom and holding public officials accountable for religious discrimination. In light of rising hate and bias incidents, particularly targeting the Jewish community, Iyer stressed the significance of addressing religious discrimination promptly.

Under the terms of the consent order, Jackson Township must ensure that all land use and zoning policies, laws, and practices comply with the LAD. The Township is permanently enjoined from discriminating against current or prospective residents based on protected characteristics. Furthermore, the Township is required to notify the DCR of any decision, policy, practice, or vote that may affect religious land use or the free exercise of religion. The DCR reserves the right to object to such actions if necessary.

In addition to these measures, Jackson Township has agreed to repeal zoning ordinances that impede the establishment of religious schools and eruvim, symbolic areas allowing certain activities during the Jewish Sabbath and Yom Kippur. The Township will also publish written descriptions of permitting requirements for sukkahs.

The consent order introduces further remedial actions, including the creation of a $150,000 restitution fund for individuals harmed by the Township’s actions. It also requires Jackson Township to establish a multicultural committee that will collaborate with the Township to address issues affecting Orthodox Jewish residents and combat discrimination within the Township. The committee will organize events and a public education campaign to promote diversity, cultural understanding, and religious sensitivity.

Furthermore, Jackson Township officials, including the mayor, elected members, and staff, will undergo discrimination training related to land use and zoning. They will also attend annual DCR trainings during the three-year term of the consent order.

The lawsuit was handled by various Deputy Attorneys General and Legal Specialists under the supervision of Assistant Attorneys General and DCR Directors. The Division on Civil Rights is responsible for preventing and eliminating discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation in New Jersey. They enforce the LAD, the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and the Fair Chance in Housing Act.

This settlement serves as a significant step towards ensuring equal treatment and protection of religious freedom for all residents of Jackson Township.

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