On August 1, 2020, the Township of Franklin (Somerset County) signed off on an agreement under which a female police lieutenant who sued the township for discrimination and retaliation received $300,000. She was also allowed to “remain on paid administrative leave until June 1, 2021 or the month following the date on which she achieves 25 years” of pension service credits. The agreement calls for the lieutenant to retire once she achieves her 25 years of service.
In her complaint, Lieutenant Kristen Durham, a police department employee since 1996, alleged that she was harassed and retaliated against because of her gender and “because of her actual and/or perceived support of female, African-American and Hispanic officers in the Department and her opposition to Defendants’ illegal employment practices.” She claimed that former Chief Lawrence Roberts “misused his positional power to bully, intimidate and harass officers” within the “male-dominated environment” and bragged that state law “allows him to do ‘whatever [he] wants” and that he will fire any officer who files a lawsuit against him.
According to Durham’s 2018 suit, the Franklin Police Department then had 105 members of which only 11 were women and 16 were African-American. None of the African-American officers, according to Durham, has “rose higher than the rank of sergeant.” She attributed this result to the Department’s “entire promotional process [which] is fraught with favoritism and predisposed to bias and subjectivity.”
She claimed that she also suffered under a “glass ceiling” when she sought to be promoted to captain. According to Durham, the promotion tests were subjective and candidates were not advised of their scores or of any appeal rights. She claimed that her complaints about the allegedly unfair treatment of women and minorities “caused Chief Roberts [to become] so angry at [Durham] that he told her that he wanted to punch her in the face.”
Durham also alleged that male supervisors “publicly engaged in affairs and openly discussed their sexual trysts with women” She said that then Deputy Chief Richard Grammar sent out a department-wide e-mail in 2015 “comment[ing] about two female employees, a dispatcher and an officer, who were on vacation in Las Vegas [and that they were] ‘hanging poolside looking good in their bikinis.'”
The complaint, which is 38 pages long and consists of 135 numbered paragraphs, contains many more of Durham’s allegations. It is at the link below.
Under the settlement agreement, the Township also agreed to restore to Durham 128 hours of sick time and 384 hours of vacation time and will give a neutral job reference to any prospective employers.
The case is captioned as Kristen Durham v. Township of Franklin, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket SOM-L-603-18. Durham was represented by Gina Mendola Longarzo of Chatham. The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here.
None of the 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 or police officials. Indeed the settlement agreement states that the Township denied all of the complaint’s allegations and the settlement was “based upon purely financial considerations.” All that is known for sure is that Franklin or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Durham 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.