DETAILS: Jackson Township Settles DOJ Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination Against Orthodox Jews

The Jackson Township Council approved a resolution Tuesday evening to enter into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) resolving the department’s lawsuit alleging religious discrimination in the township’s zoning practices.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the township does not concede liability with respect to the claims alleged in DOJ’s lawsuit and has committed to a series of actions to ensure compliance with all laws governing religious rights in land use and fair housing practices.

“This township council welcomes and embraces people of all faiths, races and
ethnic backgrounds,” said Mayor Michael Reina. “It’s time for Jackson Township to
move forward. This governing body is committed to ensuring that we will do just that in
order to foster one, united community, respectful of all people who call Jackson home.”

Specific details of the settlement will not be released until the agreement is
fully executed by the DOJ and signed by the court. All land use changes introduced in
the future will be subject to public review and comment before adoption. Settlement
highlights, per the terms of the agreement with the DOJ, include the following actions,
which the township is committed to undertaking. Jackson Township will:

  •  Ensure all land use regulations comply with federal and state laws, and will
    amend or introduce ordinances that permit schools with dormitories as an
    accessory to private, parochial and public schools in certain zoning districts;
  • Provide notice about the township’s active engagement in the settlement
    agreement, and about the requirements of the agreement, to its officers, elected
    and appointed officials, contractors, employees and agents, the public and all
    other interested parties;
  • Provide training on the requirements of the settlement agreement, as well as the
    Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
    Act (RLUIPA), to all township officers, elected and appointed officials,
    contractors, employees and agents whose duties relate to planning, zoning,
    permitting, construction, code enforcement and building occupancy;
  • Submit reports to the DOJ detailing the township’s compliance with terms of the
    settlement agreement, per agreed upon details and timelines for submission;
  • Notify the DOJ about any amendments or modifications to the township’s zoning
    code, rules, laws or ordinances that affect land uses for schools, residential
    schools, houses of worship or other religious uses;
  • Retain all land use, law enforcement and associated records directly related to or
    coming from members of the Orthodox community;
  • Allow for the inspections and copy of all non-privileged township records by the
    DOJ upon reasonable notice;
  • Develop a written process to address complaints by any person who believes the
    township and/or any of its political subdivisions or departments may have
    violated religious and/or fair housing laws;
  • Establish a settlement fund to be administered by the DOJ with all determinations
    made by the DOJ with funds totaling $150,000 for the purpose of compensating
    aggrieved persons who have suffered as a result of alleged discriminatory
    actions by the township; and provide notice to the public about the establishment
    of the fund;
  • And finally, the township will pay a civil penalty of $45,000 to the DOJ as part of
    the settlement agreement.

The settlement agreement will remain in effect for a period of three years once executed by DOJ. Both the township and DOJ may seek to terminate parts of the agreement, or the entire agreement, prior to the expiration period if the township can demonstrate that it has established “full, effective and lasting compliance” with either parts of the agreement or the entire agreement.

If, prior to the expiration of the settlement, the DOJ determines that the township has failed to satisfy the terms of the agreement, or the DOJ has reason to believe that violations of the FHA or RLUIPA are ongoing, the government may seek to extend the term of the settlement.

By entering into the settlement agreement, the township does not concede
liability with respect to the claims alleged in DOJ’s lawsuit, meaning the township does
not admit any wrongdoing on behalf of the township or any of its officials.

“By settling this matter, the township retains control over its planning and
zoning functions instead of running the risk of ceding control of those essential functions
to the court,” Mayor Reina said. “The settlement also gives us the opportunity to ensure
that our planning and zoning framework complies with all controlling federal and state
laws. And, very importantly, the settlement allows us to put an end to this costly and
lengthy litigation.”

The DOJ’s Division of Civil Rights filed suit against Jackson Township on May
20, 2020. Since that time, township attorneys, in close consultation with the township
council, have engaged in collaborative negotiations with the DOJ. Now that the
township has agreed to the settlement, it will become effective once executed by the
DOJ and signed by the court. Once in effect, the township will introduce revised land
use ordinances, which will be subject to public review and comment before adoption.
Specifics of the settlement agreement cannot be discussed publicly until it is fully
executed.

Related legal actions in this matter, including a complaint filed by the Attorney
General of New Jersey and, separately, by a private party, remain pending for the
township.

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