Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pleasantville paid out $125,000 to settle policewoman's sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.

On April 29, 2016, the City of Pleasantville (Atlantic County) agreed to pay a female police officer $125,000 to settle her claim that she was retaliated against after reporting that a fellow officer rubbed his erect penis against her arm.  The settlement was made about two months after the policewoman's receipt of an award by the Pleasantville City Council for saving the life of a heart attack victim. 

In her lawsuit, Stacey L. Williams, said that she worked well with Officer Robert Wright as a school resource officer until "a series of personal problems" caused Wright to behave erratically.  Wright, who according to the lawsuit was immune from being disciplined by then Chief Duane Comeaux, "would come to work whenever he felt like coming in, would disappear for literally hours at a time in a city vehicle whenever he felt like it during the work day, and would leave for the balance of the day whenever he felt like it."

The penis-to-arm incident allegedly occurred on July 27, 2011 while Williams was seated at her desk in short sleeves.  More alleged sexual harassment followed, including Wright sending inappropriate texts and an incident in Boscov's department store where Wright allegedly told Williams that "he was going to throw her on a bed in the store and 'rape' her."

Williams said that she reported the harassment to Sergeant Richard Moore who in turn reported it to Chief Comeaux.  Afterwards, she said, Captain Melendez (presumably Rocky Melendez) with whom she previously had a very good relationship began to exhibit hostility toward her.  Melendez was allegedly very good friends and played golf with Wright.

She further alleged that she was transferred to work patrol on the midnight shift in retaliation for having reported Wright's alleged sexual misconduct.

The complaint contains other allegations of misconduct and an August 13, 2015 order and opinion by Superior Court Judge J. Christopher Gibson suggests that the Pleasantville Police Department had lost Moore's report of Wright's alleged misconduct.

The case is captioned Williams v. City of Pleasantville, et al, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-655-13 and Williams' attorney was Sebastian B. Ionno of Pitman.  According to the settlement agreement, Williams received $77,808.20 and her attorney received $47,191.80.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Williams $125,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.