Monday, May 21, 2012

Egg Harbor pays $110,000 to settle hostile work environment suit

On April 24, 2012, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $110,000 to a former Township police officer who sued members of the Egg Harbor Police Department for allegedly retaliating against him and creating a hostile work environment.

In his suit, Robert Gleisberg, who has worked for the department since 1985, claimed that police department officials, including Lieutenant Hector Tavarez and Sergeant William Fair, retaliated against him.  Among Gleisberg's grievances were:

  1. Tavarez was hostile toward Gleisberg because Gleisberg had allegedly "objected to Tavarez's status as a person responsible for dealing with children pursuant to the Police Athletic League in light of Tavarez's conviction in municipal court for misconduct involving female children in the year 1988."
  2. Gleisberg had objected to a "Master Police Officer" designation because it was a "non-existent rank" and "was contrary to law."
  3. Gleisberg had objected to Fair allegedly having "coached" Officer Bob Smith on what to say to ensure that Margate Police Officer Mark Ciambrone would not succeed in his efforts to suppress "certain illegal gun(s)" that had been seized from him." Gleisberg alleged that Fair's intent was to "have Officer Smith lie under oath."
  4. He was denied entry into the motorcycle unit.
  5. Gleisberg was allegedly was "forced to inform the entire police department every time he had to defecate on duty" which Gleisberg felt was "embarrassing and humiliating."
  6. He supported fellow officer Christopher Mozitis in his grievances against the department.  In 2011, Mozitis settled his lawsuit against Egg Harbor Township for $650,000.  Click here for more details on the Mozitis matter.
The case is captioned Gleisberg v. Egg Harbor, New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. ATL-L-2932-08 and Gleisberg's attorney was Clifford L. Van Syoc of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Gleisberg's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $110,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gleisberg $110,000 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.

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.