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Lawsuits, Settlements and Verdicts Point to a Wide Range of Discrimination and Harassment in Law Enforcement in New Jersey

Police officers — and law enforcement agencies generally — have come under increased scrutiny in recent months and years. Major news sources have focused extensively on the misuse of deadly force in interacting with suspects.

While that problem affects members of the community generally, there is an additional very real problem that affects some of the service-minded people who work, or desire to work, in law enforcement. That problem is discrimination and sexual harassment, and it affects a wide swath of people who wear a badge or seek to do so, including women and LGBT people. If you’ve suffered illegal discrimination or harassment while working in law enforcement (or applying for a law enforcement position,) then you should act promptly to reach out to an experienced New Jersey sex / gender discrimination attorney about your legal options.

One group that is especially affected by the harassment and discrimination that goes on inside law enforcement is women. Even today, very few women are employed as police officers. Nationally, that number is somewhere between 10 and 15%. In many New Jersey cities and towns, that number is lower. For example, in North Brunswick, where one female officer recently sued for discrimination and sexual harassment, reported that only five of 85 officers (6%) were females.

The plaintiff in that lawsuit alleged that supervisors in her department “created a ‘boys club’ atmosphere.” The woman was allegedly transferred out of the head job in one bureau and replaced by a male because that head position “was a man’s job.”

In Branchburg, the alleged harassment was even more severe, according to another report. One officer with more than 15 years on the force alleged that she endured grabbing, unwanted kissing, being groped, false claims that she had sex with other officers and comments from other officers about desiring to have sex with her.

In Rochelle Park, reported that the only woman to wear a badge there alleged that she suffered a variety of forms of harassment on the job, including inappropriate images, videos and jokes, as well as offensive comments and discriminatory assertions like “all women are crazy.”

Back in February, the City of Princeton settled a discrimination and harassment lawsuit for $4 million. In that case, seven officers alleged that, for a period of several years, the chief engaged in extreme harassment and discrimination like calling female officers inappropriate names such as an anti-lesbian epithet and “a vulgar term for female genitalia,” according to a report. The chief also allegedly mocked officers about their sexual orientation.

In some departments, being a LGBT person (or having one’s supervisors hold to that belief) can make one a target. This past spring, Navy Times reported on a reservist and Sea Girt police officer received a jury verdict of $1.8 million. In his case, the Sea Girt officer persuaded the jury that his police chief discriminated against him and harassed him because of the time the officer devoted to deployment with the reserves, as well as because of the chief’s incorrect but steadfast belief that the reservist was gay.

Military reservists need not be LGBT or believed to be LGBT in order to face discrimination in their New Jersey law enforcement jobs. 17 officers in Clifton sued, alleging that, among other things, they were told that they faced termination if they accepted certain military orders. One officer stated that he was told “that the military was my mistress, and the police department was my wife. And … that I had to choose,” according to a report.

Each of these types of discrimination and/or harassment, if proven in court through admissible evidence, would be a valid basis for a discrimination/harassment judgment (and award of damages) in New Jersey. The Law Against Discrimination bans workplace discrimination based upon a person’s “race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, sex, pregnancy, breastfeeding, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, familial status, marital status, domestic partnership/civil union status, liability for military service, and in some cases atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information, and age.”

Regardless of your gender, your sexual orientation or your military status, you should be entitled to a workplace free from inappropriate harassment and discrimination. That should be true whatever your field of endeavor. If you’re not, there are avenues available for you under the law. Contact the experienced New Jersey sex / gender discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Reach out to us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and find out more. Get started putting our knowledgeable and skilled attorneys to work for you.

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