By Ron Leir
Kearny hosted a regional conference for New Jersey veterans Oct. 26 at American Legion Post 99. Representatives of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state Division on Civil Rights advised the handful of veterans attending, about their legal protections as prescribed by federal discrimination laws. Ana Limo-Magras, conciliator for the state Civil Rights office, and Derek Farthing, an EEOC investigator, offered an overview of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations and Title 7 of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 which covers discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, sex, disability or genetic information.
Also: Debra Adamczyk, team leader for the Vet Center Readjustment Counseling Service, talked about the role played by the Trenton-based center, and Philip Freeman, assistant N.J. Civil Rights director, discussed laws dealing with discrimination against veterans with disabilities and reservists on active duty.
Both Limo-Migras and Farthing said that neither the state nor the feds can “send anyone to jail” for discriminating against a veteran but an employer found to be in violation for terminating or refusing to hire a disabled veteran capable of doing a job can be made to comply and/or fined.
Citing a case illustrative of someone with a disability being denied “public accommodation,” Limo-Magras described a 2009 episode where a blind man escorted by a guide dog was initially denied seating in a Livingston diner. Then, when he finally was allowed in, he was “stuck in the back” and made to feel humiliated so he walked out. The diner owner should have made some type of “public accommodation” for the patron, Limo-Migras said.
Farthing cautioned the veterans that timely reporting of instances of alleged discrimination is key to getting a complaint investigated and into court because there is a 300-day statute of limitations on filing discrimination complaints. He said his office will review job discrimination complaints only where employers have at least 15 employees – or, in the case of age discrimination, 20 employees.
Even if an initial complaint is turned aside by a court, Farthing said that a veteran can still opt to press a “retaliation” or “reprisal” complaint against an employer and often have a better chance of winning that case than the first.
During a break in the conference, Freeman told The Observer that one reason he and his colleagues were doing this outreach work was that “very few complaints are being filed by veterans with disabilities who’ve been denied employment as well as reservists who’ve either been fired or demoted based on service [commitments].”
“Many veterans don’t know about the services offered them by the state and federal governments,” Freeman said, “and that’s why we’re getting the word out at community conferences and informal round-tables hosted by veterans’ organizations like this one.”
In the past two years, Freeman said, “we’ve done a total of 10 visits around the state in places like Paramus, Newark, Toms River, Lawrenceville, Woodbury, Atlantic City and now, Kearny.”
One local veteran who asked not to be named suggested that another reason few complaints have been made is that, “A lot of people are afraid to come forward or it’s too long a process [to remedy the problem]. They need work now. And a lot of reservists and National Guardsmen and women are not getting promotional opportunities because they’re always subject to redeployments.”