On July 24, 2020, the Township of Neptune (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $248,560.40 to settle two lawsuits filed by a female police sergeant who claimed that the Township broke promises made in its settlement of a separate, earlier lawsuit she filed in December 2013 and subjected her to workplace harassment and retaliation. The previous lawsuit, in which the then patrol officer (now sergeant) claimed sexual misconduct and harassment by her male superiors, settled in April 2014 for $330,000.
In her two more recent lawsuits, Sergeant Christine Savage alleged that Captain Michael McGhee harassed her after she had been assigned to the Detective Bureau. According to Savage, McGhee shunned her, chastised her for arrived two minutes late when male detectives arrived late and left early with no criticism and “repeatedly asked her if she was going to cry” after he demeaned her. She also alleged that Chief James J. Hunt, Jr. also shunned her and ordered McGhee to not permit her to take certain training classes even though her right to take those classes was established by her settlement of the 2013 lawsuit.
Savage also claimed that police officials denied her access to her official Township photograph that she sought to use in connection with her receiving an award from the Asbury Park – Neptune NAACP. She further claimed that an unmarked Neptune Police vehicle would “drive slowly on the street where she lives and turn toward her mailbox and stop abruptly.” She claimed that this was Hunt’s way of seeking to intimidate her.
Significantly, Savage claimed that after the incident involving the unmarked vehicle, she told her union president in confidence that she believed that Hunt “was a threat to her safety and that of her family.” Savage claimed that she was placed on paid administrative leave and ordered to take a fitness for duty psychological examination in March 2018 after the union president relayed Savage’s belief concerning Hunt to Township officials.
An April 11, 2018 report found that Savage was unfit for duty, placed her on unpaid leave and recommended a course of treatment, according to the complaints. Savage said she completed treatment with the help of a licensed clinical social worker. She claimed that six months later she presented Township officials with reports from both a psychologist and a psychiatrist that found her fit for duty. According to the lawsuit, the Township refused to return Savage to full duty even though the Township’s own psychological expert also found her to be fit for duty. It appears, however, from the latter lawsuit that the Township’s expert, after receiving a letter from Deputy Police Chief Larry Fisher, reversed her opinion and found Savage unfit for duty “without re-examining [Savage], speaking to [Savage], or otherwise giving [Savage] an opportunity to respond to the allegations asserted by Fisher.”
There are several other allegations listed in the lawsuits and readers are invited to read them in full at the links below.
The settlement calls for Neptune to allow Savage to remain employed until June 1, 2021 so that she can retire with a full pension with 25 years of service. The $248,560.40 payout is broken down as follows: a) $175,000 for her “pain and suffering,” b) $23,206.08 in “back pay and pension contributions for the time she was in ‘no pay’ status in 2018 and c) $50,354.32 as reimbursement for pension credits she purchased during the 2018 period when she was in “no pay” status.
The agreement also concedes that Savage is the “prevailing party” in both cases and authorizes her attorneys to apply to have the Township pay their fees.
The two cases are both captioned as Savage v. Neptune Township and the first one bears Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-1528-16 and the latter one bears Docket No. MON-L-1185-20. Savage’s attorneys on the two cases were, respectively, Donald F. Burke of Brick and Catherine M. Elston of Wall. (The settlement agreement begins at page 31 of the PDF file that can be downloaded at the first link above.)
Neither 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 Neptune or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Savage than take the matters 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.