Rachel Wainer Apter of Englewood already had a distinguished resume when New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal appointed her Thursday as the new director of the state Division on Civil Rights.
Apter, 38, most recently has served as Grewal’s counsel on civil right and immigration – and led the New Jersey team that defeated a motion by Texas and seven other states to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“This is a unique time for civil rights law in New Jersey,” Apter said. “While civil rights are under siege at the national level, the New Jersey legislature has been dramatically expanding civil rights protections across the state and New Jersey has one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country.”
A married mother of three, grew up in Rockaway in Morris County, was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received her law degree from Harvard Law School.
She previously was a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union and, before that, served as law clerk to:
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg;
- Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit:
- Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York.
“Rachel has an extraordinary commitment to social justice and equality and has the vision and skills necessary to lead the Division as we work to protect the civil rights of all New Jerseyans,” Grewal said.
“Discrimination threatens the foundations of our democracy,” the attorney general noted. “As the federal government pulls back from its responsibility to protect people of color, LGBTQ people, women, immigrants, people with disabilities, and other marginalized communities, it is more important than ever that New Jersey stand up to protect its own residents.”
Apter’s cases with the ACLU involved immigration, voting rights, reproductive freedom, and the right to be free from discrimination.
She served as counsel in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision, which considered whether a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple was exempt from Colorado’s anti-discrimination law, and on a challenge to the Trump Administration’s decision to allow employers with moral or religious objections to contraception to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage.
Apter also argued and won a Second Circuit appeals disability discrimination decision and led a task force that investigated incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses.
She takes office on Oct. 15, succeeding Craig Sashihara, the division’s director since 2011.
During his tenure, Sashihara oversaw efforts to combat racial taunting in high school sports and fought discrimination on the basis of disability, pregnancy, and gender expression.
He also led the state investigation into Mahwah Township’s ordinance banning non-state residents from the town’s parks.
Sashihara is becoming counsel for NJ CARES (New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies), Grewal’s initiative to combat the opioid crisis.
New Jersey’s Division on Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing the nation’s oldest anti-discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, pregnancy or breastfeeding, and a variety of other protected characteristics in the workforce, places of public accommodation, housing, and lending. The Division is charged with preventing and eliminating discrimination in New Jersey by both receiving, investigating and acting upon complaints alleging discrimination, and by affirmatively issuing reports and publications, conducting investigations, and implementing educational and community outreach programs to address systemic discrimination.
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