In Brief

Judge dismisses union’s lawsuit over correctional officers’ pay raises

By: - May 19, 2023 2:25 pm

A union alleged discrimination after raises granted to corrections officers, but judge found governor, state immune and claims flawed. (Getty Images)

A Superior Court judge this week dismissed an AFSCME suit charging Gov. Phil Murphy and the state discriminated against the thousands of state workers it represents by granting raises to correctional officials not represented by the union.

A 2022 bill raising the minimum salary for corrections officers represented by the Policemens Benevolent Association from $40,000 to $48,000 and 8% raises for other correctional police officers lie at the heart of the suit.

Corrections Commissioner Victoria Kuhn cited corrections workers’ performance during the pandemic when announcing the raises.

AFSCME had alleged the state discriminated on the basis of race and gender in granting the raises because Black women make up the largest share of AFSCME members, while the largest portion of correctional officers are white men.

The union’s workers, AFSCME charged, experienced nearly identical working conditions to corrections officials during the pandemic, and claimed that limiting the raises to corrections officers ran afoul of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

Judge Robert Lougy found legislative immunity, which grants elected officials legal protections from suits over official decisions, applied in this instance to both Murphy and the state. AFSCME, he said, had simply landed on the wrong side of the legislation.

“Indeed, the gravamen of plaintiffs’ dissatisfaction is that they were on the other side of the line. They simply want the line drawing to include them,” Lougy wrote.

He further found the union’s claims that enacting legislation could violate other established laws was “totally incorrect and profoundly anti-democratic.”

The union’s discrimination claims also failed to meet the bar set by the Law against Discrimination, the judge said. The case was dismissed with prejudice, which means the union will not be able to bring the same claim back to court at a later date.

“The Governor’s Office believes the court acted correctly in dismissing the lawsuit,” a spokesperson for the governor said.

A spokesperson for AFSCME New Jersey did not respond to a request for comment.

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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.