Court Finds New Jersey State Bar Association Engaged in Unlawful Discrimination with its Quota System for its Board of Trustees

New Jersey State Bar Association

Josiah Contarino

Case: Rajeh A. Saadeh v. New Jersey State Bar Association, Docket No. MID-L-6023-21.

On February 13, 2023, the New Jersey State Bar Association (“NJSBA”) filed a motion in New Jersey’s appellate court for leave to appeal a trial court decision that found NJSBA engaged in discriminatory practices. Specifically, the trial court’s November 9, 2022, decision ruled that NJSBA was engaging in an unlawful quota system and thereby violated New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) and the plaintiff’s civil rights.

Starting in 1989, the NJSBA created seats on its Board of Trustees that were reserved exclusively for “state bar members who were Hispanic, Asian Pacific, or African American.” Additional seats were added exclusively for members identifying as LGBTQ+ and for members over 70. Women and disabled members were later categorized as underrepresented and thereafter eligible for these exclusive trustee positions.

The trial court rejected NJSBA’s arguments that its system was a bona fide affirmative action plan; that the LAD does not apply to NJSBA because it is not a public accommodation; that NJSBA’s quota was lawful; and that that NJSBA’s actions were protected by the First Amendment.

“‘The history of the racial quota is a history of subjugation, not beneficence. Its evil lies not in its name but in its effect; a quota is a divider of society, a creator of castes . . . for every person quota-ed in, another is quota-ed out.’” Decision at 14 (quoting Price v. Civil Service Commission, 26 Cal. 3d 257 (1980) (J. Mosk, dissenting)).

The New Jersey Appellate Division will likely decide NJSBA’s motion for leave to appeal sometime this month. If granted, NJSBA will be permitted to file an appeal of the trial court’s decision finding NJSBA liable. If denied, the parties will head to trial solely on the issue of damages.

Josiah Contarino is a senior associate at Dhillon Law Group Inc. where he practices commercial litigation, First Amendment, defamation, and election law matters in state and federal courts.

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