IAOHRA's Member of the Month
Born: April 25, 1970
Position: Senior Counsel, Department of the Public Advocate, Trenton
Practice Areas: Public interest law
College: Northwestern University, B.A., history, 1992
Law School: Boston University School of Law, J.D., 1996
Career History: Current position, 2009; N.J. Division on Civil Rights, director, 2002-09; Gaccione, Pomaco and Beck, associate, 2000-02.
Profile: Vespa-Papaleo served for six and a half years as New Jersey's chief anti-discrimination official, overseeing five offices and 85 staff members in enforcing state laws touching on civil rights, employment, housing and public accommodations. He was responsible for budgeting, setting agency priorities, dealing with legislative developments and overseeing litigation.
Among other initiatives, he established undercover investigative units that resulted in prosecutions of landlords and real estate agents illegally engaging in housing discrimination in on-line advertising. He set up an Employer Advisory Council, which invited members of the business community to seminars focused on explaining and discussing discrimination issues in the workplace. He also initiated annual conferences addressing the needs of people with disabilities.
On his watch, the Civil Rights Division found probable cause that a Methodist church group, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, violated the public accommodation provision of the Law Against Discrimination by refusing to let a lesbian couple use a pavilion for a civil union ceremony, though permitting weddings at the site.
Vespa-Papaleo served as chair of the N.J. Civil Union Review Commission, which issued a groundbreaking report after two years of investigation finding that civil unions are an insufficient substitute for marriage for same-sex adults. The report, which he co-authored, was cited in numerous jurisdictions, including California and Connecticut, for the proposition that civil unions do not work to provide equality as marriages do.
In his present capacity as senior counsel to the Department of the Public Advocate, he manages and oversee staff projects, implements department priorities and provides leadership to teams of lawyers, paralegals and support staff on such issues as civil rights, childhood lead poisoning and school bullying.