TRENTON – Acting to counter a rising tide of hate in New Jersey, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) and the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) announced Nov. 23 the launch of a new internet portal – the NJ Bias Investigation Access System (NJBIAS) – through which residents can file discrimination complaints and report possible bias offenses online.
According to a release, now “live” and available to the public at https://bias.njcivilrights.gov, the new web portal provides a simple and fast way for anyone who believes they have been the victim of harassment or discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) to file a complaint. Likewise, anyone who is aware of, has witnessed, or has been the target of a possible bias offense can report it to the Division of Criminal Justice via the new portal. Respondents can also respond to civil rights complaints by filing documents using the online system.
The launch of the new NJBIAS portal follows the release last month of New Jersey’s 2019 Bias Incident Report, which revealed an alarming spike in bias activity compared to the prior year – particularly among young people. According to the latest data, there were 994 bias incidents reported, in New Jersey, in 2019—the highest annual total since the state began reporting bias incident data more than 25 years ago. The 2019 number reflected a 75% jump compared with 2018.
“Justice delayed too often means justice denied,” stated Grewal. ”That’s why it’s so important for us to be launching an online complaint portal that will make it easier for people who face discrimination, harassment, or hate to ask us for help, and allow us to respond more quickly. With the unfortunate rise in bias incidents in New Jersey and across the nation over the past few years, our new NJBIAS system couldn’t be more timely.”
“Acts of hate and bias are on the rise, but too often, people don’t know that they can report civil rights violations to DCR,” stated DCR Director Wainer Apter. “Discrimination and bias-based harassment violates the LAD and DCR investigates every single complaint we receive. If we find a violation, we can order money damages for the victim and equitable relief to ensure that the discrimination and harassment stop.
“This new online filing system will not only make it much easier for people to file complaints with our office, and for respondents to respond to them, it will also allow us to manage all of our civil rights investigations online, which will make us much more efficient.”
“We are committed to combating bias and bringing to justice anyone who commits a hate crime,” stated Division of Criminal Justice Director Veronica Allende. “The most recent bias offense data shows evidence of some troubling trends – trends that will require not only continued law enforcement efforts, but strong community engagement, to reverse. By making the reporting of bias activity easier, the new web portal will hopefully encourage more people to report bias activity when they witness it, or when they, a loved one or acquaintance have been directly victimized by hate.”
Those who may have been harassed, discriminated against or subjected to bias should recognize they have more than one option in seeking recourse.
While a criminal investigation focuses on whether a bias incident violated New Jersey’s criminal laws, a DCR investigation focuses on whether an employer, housing provider, or place open to the public (such as a school or medical facility) discriminated against a person, or failed to take the required action to stop harassment, on the basis of a protected characteristic enumerated in the LAD, the nation’s oldest civil rights law. Those characteristics include race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, as well as others.
Employers, housing providers, and places of public accommodation are encouraged to proactively register with NJBIAS now, so they can ensure that they will be properly served in any case filed with DCR.
Respondents in DCR cases can then file their answers, position statements, motions, and all evidence that is relevant to the allegations online through NJBIAS. Parties that register for the system do not need to serve paper copies of any filings on DCR or on the opposing party; they can simply submit everything online, and NJBIAS allows both parties to communicate with the DCR investigator assigned to the case, check on the status of the case, receive immediate notifications via email and text message of all updates in the case, and to sign all relevant documents in the case electronically.
Finally, the system allows DCR to manage all of its investigations electronically, which will significantly improve efficiency and case management.
Both DCR and DCJ’s regional offices have been closed for walk-in services since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals wishing to file a complaint with DCR who are unable to access the online Bias Incident Access System can call 1 (833) NJDCR4U, and a DCR receptionist will assist them over the phone. Interpreters are available, as well.
Persons seeking to report bias activity to the Division of Criminal Justice but unable to access the Bias Incident Access System can do so by calling 1 (800) 277-BIAS (2427).
The NJBIAS portal’s creation and ongoing operations are partially funded with over $2 million from the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim Assistance Grant Program, a major funding source for states to provide services to victims of crime.