In Brief

High court to weigh N.J. policy requesting confidentiality in harassment probes

By: - May 10, 2023 3:52 pm

The New Jersey Supreme Court will take up the case of Viktoriya Usachenok, who claims civil service rules requiring investigators to request confidentiality chill free speech. (Amanda Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

The New Jersey Supreme Court will weigh whether portions of a state anti-harassment law violate free speech protections by requiring investigators to request victims, witnesses, and others not discuss investigations.

The court announced on Tuesday that it would take up the case of former Treasury employee Viktoriya Usachenok, whose lawsuit claims the prohibition is unconstitutional.

Usachenok initially sued in 2017, alleging harassment from a work supervisor against whom she had filed an equal employment opportunity complaint the prior year, among other violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and New Jersey Civil Rights Act.

In 2018, she asked the court to quash a portion of the state’s administrative code that demanded victims and others interviewed during the course of EEO investigations not disclose investigatory details.

The Civil Service Commission changed those rules in 2019, replacing the directive issued to victims and witnesses to a request. But Usachenok alleged the looser restrictions still unconstitutionally restrict her freedom of speech and violate anti-retaliation protections and some contractual rules afforded under the Law Against Discrimination.

The appellate panel that heard her case disagreed and last year ruled the updated regulations reflect an “attempt to convince” and not an “attempt to coerce.”

It’s not clear when the high court will hear arguments in Usachenok’s appeal.

“Harassment victims should never be silenced from speaking freely about their experiences of discrimination,” said Christopher Eibeler, Usachenok’s attorney. “No other state in the United States imposes the level of strict confidentiality that New Jersey continues to impose upon its state employees.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.