Administrative Determinations by the Supreme Court on the Report of the Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Issues

In June 1997 the Court appointed the Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Issues to ascertain whether there was evidence of bias or discrimination against lesbians and gay men in the judicial process and in the judicial workplace. The Court’s intent, in forming the Task Force, was to signal its strong commitment to the equal treatment of all individuals seeking justice in our court system.

The 27-member Task Force consisted of judges, lawyers (from small and large law firms), representatives from nonprofit organizations, State and local government, and academia. It included people of varying viewpoints and sexual orientations.

The Court asked the Task Force to do two things. First, the Task Force was to examine both the experiences of litigants, attorneys, judges, and other participants in the judicial process, and the experiences of judiciary employees to determine whether there was any evidence suggesting bias or discrimination because of sexual orientation. Second, if it found any evidence of discrimination, the Task Force was to define the nature and scope of the problem and to recommend ways to eliminate that discrimination throughout the judiciary.

The Task Force used various methods in carrying out its work, including public hearings, legal research, and a survey. In conducting its study, which covered the period from 1993 through 2000, the Task Force defined “sexual orientation bias” as offensive gestures, disparaging remarks, inappropriate jokes, unequal treatment, unfavorable outcomes in court proceedings based on a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.

The Task Force reported that the majority of survey respondents did not believe sexual orientation bias to be prevalent in the court system, although respondents who identified themselves as gay or lesbian reported problems to a greater degree than did the overall population of respondents. The area of greatest concern identified by the Task Force was that of insensitive or disparaging comments or inappropriate jokes. The Task Force concluded that sexual orientation bias, whether actual or perceived, has the capacity to create a hostile work environment and to undermine public confidence in judicial neutrality. Accordingly, the Task Force made four specific recommendations. Its recommendations, and the Court’s determinations on those recommendations, are set forth below.

Committee Recommendation 1. Distribute the full report to all judges, judiciary supervisors (team leaders), the president of the [New Jersey] State Bar Association, each county bar association, statewide speciality bar associations [,] and others the Court finds appropriate. Distribute the Executive Summary of this report to all judiciary employees along with a notice of how to obtain a copy of the full report. Make the full report available to the public through notice to the bar and other media.

The Court approves Recommendation #1 and has asked the Administrative Director to make the various distributions.

Committee Recommendation 2. The sexual orientation bias/discrimination component of education for judges and court employees should continue and be periodically reviewed for effectiveness. The education for judges and lawyers should continue to include a review of New Jersey law. Judges, lawyers and court employees should be instructed that the Code of Judicial Conduct, the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Code of Conduct for Judiciary Employees prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Task Force further recommends that efforts be made to work with the Institute for Continuing Legal Education to incorporate education relating to sexual orientation bias into its program for new lawyers.

The Court approves the substance of Recommendation #2. The Court notes that current educational programs for judges and judiciary staff already include components on discrimination. The Administrative Director will ask the Judiciary’s Office of Judicial Education/Performance and Office of Organizational Development and Training to perform periodic reviews of their programs, making appropriate changes so as to reflect current law and methodology for educating judges and staff on sexual orientation bias. In addition, the Administrative Office of the Courts will contact the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Institute for Continuing Legal Education to incorporate sexual orientation bias education into their continuing legal education programs.

Committee Recommendation 3. Employ all existing communication methods (e.g., the Judiciary’s InfoNet, Internet, newsletters, training, and posters) to publicize the mechanism for reporting bias/discrimination, and to ensure users of confidentiality of the reporting system.

During the period in which the Task Force was completing its work, the Court issued an EEO/AA Master Plan designed to ensure fairness and compliance in all EEO/AA matters. That Plan, as implemented, creates full-time EEO/AA Officers in each county and an EEO/AA advisory committee in each vicinage and at the Administrative Office of the Courts. Once every vicinage has established its plan to implement the Master Plan, scheduled for the end of September 2001, all Judiciary employees will have been informed of the policy against bias and discrimination and of the procedures for reporting any incidents. The Administrative Director will take steps to publicize those reporting procedures using the various existing communication methods.

Committee Recommendation 4. Appoint a working group which would oversee the implementation of these recommendations and assess the need for a follow-up study.

The Court endorses the need for oversight of implementation of its determinations regarding Recommendations 1 through 3. The Court has given the Administrative Director that responsibility, rather than creating a separate oversight committee. The Administrative Director will report back to the Court on the progress of the implementation.

The Court, having thus acted on the recommendations of the Task Force, would like to take this opportunity to thank the Task Force co-chairs, members, and staff for their work on this important study. Their recommendations will help provide a court system and workplace free of bias and discriminatory behavior. Implementing those recommendations will further strengthen the Court’s continuing commitment toward that end.

Dated: September 26, 2001

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