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Civil Rights in New Jersey, 1945-2020: Major Cases

On April 16, 1945, Governor Walter Edge signed a bill enacting the country's first civil rights law, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

Law Against Discrimination/Division on Civil Rights Major Cases

In the late 1950's and early 1960's, in a series of cases the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected constitutional challenges to the Law Against Discrimination provisions




Levitt and Sons, Inc. v. Div. Against Discrimination, 31 N.J. 514 (1960)

  • Defendants Todd and James allegedly were rejected by Levitt as purchasers of houses in Levittown because they were black. Defendant Gardner, also black, allegedly was rejected by Green Fields as a purchaser of a house in Green Field Village because of his color. 

Jones v. Haridor Realty, 37 N.J. 384 (1962)

  • Haridor refused to sell the Jones family a house in a housing development he controlled because they were black. Haridor used Federal Housing Administration approval for home construction purposes and because of this Haridor was  subject to the Law Against Discrimination because it sold dwellings to buyers who financed their purchases through mortgage loans guaranteed by that Federal agency. Such use of public credit by both seller and purchaser draws the development into the category of publicly assisted housing accommodations.

David v. Vesta, 45 N.J. 301 (1965)

  • This case concerns a complaint filed by Delia David, a Negro, in the Division on Civil Rights, alleging that respondents Vesta Company and its agents discriminated against her in the rental of an apartment in a privately financed apartment house owned and operated by the Vesta Company.

National Organization for Women (NOW) v. Little League Baseball, 67 N.J. 320 (1974). 

  • In 1972, 12-year old Maria Pepe was kicked off of a Little League team in Hoboken because of Little League’s policy of only allowing boys to compete. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed a determination by DCR finding that girls should be permitted to play Little League baseball. By the next year, more than 30,000 girls played on Little League teams nationwide.

Frank v. Ivy Club, et al., 120 N.J. 73 (1990)

  • Sally Frank filed a complaint at the Division on Civil Rights against Princeton University and three all-male eating clubs. The Division ultimately held that the eating clubs at issue were places of public accommodation because they were inextricably intertwined with Princeton University, which deprived the clubs of their private status and made them places of public accommodation under the Law Against Discrimination. The New Jersey Supreme Court Affirmed.

Lehmann v. Toys R' Us, Inc., 132 N.J. 587 (1993)

  • New Jersey Supreme Court held, for the first time, that a hostile environment caused by sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination in violation of the LAD. Employers can be held liable for failing to prevent and remedy hostile working environments.

Dale v. Boy Scouts of America 160 N.J. 562

  • In Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is subject to the New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and it violated the statute by expelling someone because of his homosexuality.

Shepard v. LeTerrace Swim Club

  • The Le Terrace Swim Club in Nutley refused admission to people of color. Division on Civil Rights investigated the case and found probable cause to believe the Law Against Discrimination had been violated. Plaintiffs, then represented by the ACLU of NJ, filed suit in superior court and the case ultimately settled for $1 million.

L.W. v. Toms River BOE. 189 N.J. 381

  • In 1999, a mother filed a complaint at DCR on behalf of her minor child, L.W., who was repeatedly harassed at school because of his perceived sexual orientation. DCR prosecuted the case in the Office of Administrative Law, but the administrative law judge held that a cause of action against a school district for student-on-student sexual harassment was not cognizable under the LAD. The DCR Director rejected the ALJ’s decision, and held that the LAD recognized hostile environment claims against a school district. The Director concluded that a “school district will be liable for such harassment where the school administration or its agents or employees knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take effective measures to stop it.” The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Director’s conclusion, and the law remains the same today. Note that this is very different from the federal government’s current proposals regarding Title IX. 

Bernstein v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association

  • In 2007, a lesbian couple requested to use the Ocean Grove Pavilion for a civil union ceremony. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a private body responsible for granting applications to use the site, denied their application, claiming that civil unions violated the group's Methodist principles. Petitioners filed a complaint with Division on Civil Rights. The Division on Civil Rights found probable cause to believe the LAD had been violated. After prosecuting the case in the Office of Administrative Law, the Division ruled that the Camp Meeting Association was a place of public accommodation because use of the property was both commercial and publicly advertised, and because the Camp Meeting Association agreed to make the pavilion available for public use in order to obtain a state tax break. The Division then held that the respondent violated the Law Against Discrimination in failing to rent the pavilion to the couple.

Cutler v. Dorn 196 N.J. 419

  • Plaintiff Jason Cutler had been employed by the Haddonfield Police Department since January 30, 1995, when, on July 14, 1999, he filed this LAD action against defendants, the Borough of Haddonfield (Haddonfield), Theodore Dorn, the former Director of Public Safety, and Robert Shreve, Jr., a fellow police officer. Cutler alleged a hostile work environment based on numerous incidents involving his coworkers and supervisors that were claimed to constitute harassment on the basis of his Jewish religion and ancestry.


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