On July 19, 2010, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $100,000 to one of its police officers who claimed that he was wrongfully fired and then, after reinstatement, was subjected to a hostile work environment.

In his suit, Shawn Reed said that a broken ankle he received while drinking alcohol at a June 17, 2006 P.B.A. picnic caused him to go on medical leave. In August 2006, Reed claimed that he advised the City that he was ready to report back to work for light duty. Yet, he claimed that even though he was assured by Lieutenant Dan Morning that he could report for light duty, “Business Administrator Arch Liston, with the express approval of the Mayor and perhaps other members of the City Council unilaterally changed [city policy such that] no one would be allowed to return to light duty.” When Reed attempted to use the “sick bank” (i.e. other city employees “bank” their unused sick time to benefit their fellow employees), he claims that Liston “again changed the policy, saying that sick bank time would not be allowed to be used by employees who had run out of sick time.” Reed alleged that the City next accused him of “abandoning his job” and telling him that if he did not report back to work, he would be fired. He claims that since he was still disabled it was not possible for him to obey the City’s orders.

Reed alleged that the City also “concocted other pretextual charges” based on allegations of Reed’s chronic alcoholism. He said that the alcoholism charges arose from reports by Dr. Farrell Crouse. Yet, Reed claimed, the City had sent Reed to see Mr. Frank Hudson, an alcohol counselor, who, along with member of the City’s Employment Advisory System, determined that Reed had no drinking problem and was fit for duty. Liston and the police chief, however, allegedly relied upon Dr. Crouse’s report and initiated charges that ultimately led to Reed being fired.

After Reed appealed his termination, the City of Bridgeton “determined it was in their best interest to return [him] to employment status. According to an August 8, 2008 article in the Press of Atlantic City, the City then paid Reed $100,000 in back pay plus $26,000 in legal fees. After Reed returned to work, he alleged that he was made to wear “a uniform specifically designed only for him” and forced to work as a file clerk which caused him to be “ridiculed and laughed at by his co-employees.”

Also named in the suit were Bridgeton Police Chiefs Jeffrey C. Wentz and Mark Ott. Reed’s wife, Suzanne Reed, joined as plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The case is captioned Reed v. Bridgeton, Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-845-08 and Reed’s attorney was Kevin P. McCann of Bridgeton. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Reed’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bridgeton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Reed $100,000 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.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]