On or about March 18, 2016, the City of Northfield (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $200,000 to settle an acting police captain’s lawsuit brought under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).
In his lawsuit, Daniel T. Mitchell, described as a highly decorated combat veteran, claimed that he was passed over for captain and chief promotions because then Mayor (now State Assemblyman) Vincent Mazzeo had “concerns with the amount of military time” Mitchell used. According to the complaint, “Mazzeo felt [Mitchell’s] service in the military interfered with [his] position with the Northfield police.” The lawsuit alleged that Northfield’s action conflicted with the USERRA which is intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other uniformed services are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service.
Also named in the suit were Mayor Jerry McGee and Police Chief Robert James. As part of the settlement, the City agreed to promote Mitchell to the permanent rank of Captain retroactive to April 1, 2013 and Mitchell agreed to retire effective June 1, 2016.
The case is captioned Mitchell v. City of Northfield, et al, Federal Court Case No. 15-cv-01499 and Mitchell’s attorney was Michelle J. Douglass of Somers Point. Case documents are on-line here.
None of Mitchell’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 Northfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mitchell $200,000 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.