State Sides With Schwebel In Dispute Over Human Rights Commission Reappointment
The Two River Times, December 12, 2008
By Ryan Fennell

MIDDLETOWN - The New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety Division on Civil Rights has determined that "probable cause" exists in a complaint fled by Middletown resident and former Human Rights Commission Chairperson Carolyn Schwebel against the Township of Middletown .

  The complaint filed in Feb. 2008 claims that Middletown Township engaged in unlawful discrimination against Schwebel under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination when she was not reappointed to her position on the HRC by the Township when her term expired in December 2007.

  Schwebel claimed that she was not reappointed to her position on the HRC due to her involvement in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey in June, 2004 that claimed Middletown Township failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the N.J. Law Against Discrimination with regard to publicly owned property. The lawsuit was sent to arbitration and a consent order was issued in July 2007.

  Schwebel had served on Middletown 's HRC for 18 years, most recently as its chairperson.

  According to Schwebel, Middletown 's HRC has historically had trouble finding people to serve on the commission as it is a volunteer position. Schwebel asserts that she was anxious to continue her service on the commission that continues to have at least four vacancies according to the DCR finding.

  According to the DCR finding, Schwebel confronted the governing body of Middletown on January 6th, 2008 on why she was not reappointed to her position.

  According to Schwebel and audiotape of the public meeting Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger responded by saying, "...you are involved in litigation against the Township and we felt... it was a conflictů and better to not reappoint you."

  "...It was a recommendation based on the litigation," Middletown Township attorney Bernard Reilly added.

  Schwebel further contends that the consent order issued to the Township regarding the litigation has yet to be fulfilled.

  The DCR was charged with determining whether probable cause existed to "credit the complainant's allegation of discrimination."

  Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination probable cause has been described as "a reasonable ground for suspicion supported by facts and circumstances strong enough to warrant a cautious person to believe the law was violated and that the matter should proceed to hearing."

  The Law Against Discrimination protects volunteers as well as paid employees or members of agencies.

  The DCR found that probable cause exists in this matter because Middletown subjected Schwebel to reprisal by deciding to terminate her service on it's Human Rights Commission and refusing to reappoint her based on her involvement in the 2004 lawsuit.

  The next step in the process is that a conciliator from the DCR will contact both parties to arrange a meeting to determine whether a resolution can be reached.

  "We are prepared to go through the process as we've always been prepared to do," Reilly said.

  If a resolution cannot be reached between Schwebel and the Township, the matter would then be sent to the Office of Administrative Law where a hearing on the matter would take place Reilly said.

  "The first matter of business is to try to resolve things with this conciliator," Reilly said.