Friday, May 11, 2012

Paulsboro pays $94,524.28 to settle police officer's discrimination claim

On April 3, 2012, the Borough of Paulsboro (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $94,524.28 to a former Paulsboro police officer who filed administrative discrimination claims against the Paulsboro Police Department,

In his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Division on Civil Rights complaints, Pedro Heredia, a 10-year veteran of the Paulsboro Police Department, claimed that he was questioned by Captain Marino about an incident in which Officer David Belbin allegedly made "inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature" to Officer Nicole Thigpen.  Marino, Heredia claimed, disclosed what Heredia said in the interview to Belbin who later confronted Heredia in the Police Station locker room. 

In another incident, Heredia said that he witnessed Sergeant Jason Bish use excessive force against an African American male.  He claimed that two other officers who also witnessed the alleged incident, Keith Hoagle and Michael Bielski, both falsely stated that the incident did not occur the way Heredia had reported it.

Thereafter, he claims to have subjected to racially biased remarks and literature and was ultimately suspended because of "untruthfulness and misconduct." 

Under the settlement agreement, Heridia agreed to resign his position and never seek employment from Paulsboro again.  In addition to paying Heredia $94,524.28, Paulsboro agreed to dismiss all pending disciplinary charges against him and not oppose Heredia's application for a disability pension.

Heredia's lawyer was represented by the law firm of Ginarte, O'Dwyer, Gonzalez, Gallardo & Winograd, LLP.  The complaints and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of disputes in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Heredia's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $94,524.28 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paulsboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Paulsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Heredia $94,524.28 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.