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The Rule of Three in NJ Public Employment

Employment discrimination can occur just as easily in the public sector as it can at private companies. Though discrimination can take place at any time, it often occurs during the hiring or promotion process. Less qualified applicants may be hired or promoted due to bias in the department. Such discrimination is unlawful in New Jersey when it is based on any of the following factors:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Nationality
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Creed
  • Sex (including childbirth and pregnancy)
  • Age
  • Civil union or domestic partnership
  • Atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait
  • Marital status
  • Gender expression or identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Genetic information
  • Physical or mental disability
  • AIDS or HIV

In order to prevent such unlawful discrimination, nepotism, or other types of favoritism in civil service agencies and departments, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission has enacted the “Rule of Three.”

According to the Rule of Three, applicants for a civil service job or promotion must be judged by an objective examination whenever possible. Following an examination, applicants must be ranked based on merit scores. The department can then choose from the top three candidates on the list. If the hiring authority does not pick the highest-ranked applicant, however, it must provide a detailed written statement giving valid reasons for the decision.

However, the Rule of Three does not always prevent bias in civil service hiring. In one case heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court, a fire department had the following ranked applicants and their prior experience:

  • First = Student teacher
  • Second = Volunteer firefighter for over 1,000 hours
  • Third = Bartender
  • Fourth = Lifeguard

The department hired the first, third, and fourth-ranked applicants on the list, despite the second-ranked applicant having far greater experience than any other and the only reason given was that the candidates chosen fit with the department’s needs. No further explanation was given, the passed-over applicant challenged the decision, and the courts found this reason was not adequate to satisfy the Rule of Three.

Call Today for a Consultation with a Skilled NJ Employment Attorney

Whether you have applied for employment in the private sector or public sector, you have legal rights if you believe you have been the victim of unlawful employment discrimination. Whether your case involves anti-discrimination laws, the Rule of Three, or other regulations, employment claims can involve complex legal questions. Employment lawyer David H. Kaplan, Attorney at Law has extensive experience handling NJ employment cases and can help to protect your rights. Please call today for a consultation to discuss your situation.