Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hoboken pays $99,000 to settle police officer's racial discrimination case.

On May 21, 2013, the City of Hoboken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $99,000 to a police officer who sued members of the Hoboken Police Department for racial discrimination and ethnic hostility.  The officer also agreed to retire from the Department "effective May 1, 2014 or on the twenty fifth (25th) anniversary of his employment for retirement pension purposes, whichever date is later."

In his suit, William James said that African-American officers such as him were routinely passed over for promotion.  He claimed that the Hoboken Police Department uses "an arbitrary process of 'off the books' promotions" which gives the police administration "unfettered discretion to place cronies, friends or favorites in 'acting' positions of higher rank."  Beyond promotional issues, James also claimed that he "saw images of Hoboken Police Personnel wearing what are obviously Ku Klux Klan hoods made out of table napkins."

Individually named in the suit were former Mayor David Roberts, Former Police Chief Carmen V. LaBruno and former Public Safety Director William Bergen.  Neither Roberts, LaBruno nor Bergen signed off on the settlement, but James' complaint was dismissed against them as part of the settlement.

The case is captioned James v. Hoboken, Docket No. HUD-L-1961-10 and James' attorney was Robert M. Anderson of Allenhurst.  Case documents are on-line here.


None of James' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $99,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hoboken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hoboken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay James $99,000 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.