On September 23, 2020, the Township of Monroe (Middlesex County) quietly paid $75,000 to settle a female police lieutenant’s discrimination lawsuit in which she claimed that she was wrongly passed over for promotion. Her suit also claimed that others in the “male-dominated and not racially diverse” agency referred to her as the “token black of the department.”

In her lawsuit, Lisa Robinson, who is an African-American who served as a Township officer since 1997, claimed that an “illegal” promotion process and a retaliatory reassignment to a non-police Township division deprived her of a promotion to captain. Instead, then Police Chief Michael Lloyd announced Lieutenant Michael Biennas’ promotion to captain in 2018 “despite [Robinson’s] veteran status, extensive qualifications and her seniority in rank.”

Robinson claimed that the promotion process’ written essays and interview questions were “entirely subjective” and “permitted unfettered discretion” that allowed police and Township officials to promote anyone they wanted. Robinson claimed in her suit that Biennas and Lloyd are close personal friends who attended college together. She further alleged that Biennas is the godfather of Lloyd’s son.

Robinson’s lawsuit claimed that the “promotional process advances the nepotism and favoritism that was common within the Township and the Department.”

Robinson was promoted to captain in the summer of 2019, while the lawsuit was pending. Biennas became Monroe’s police chief on July 1, 2019.

The case is captioned as Lisa Robinson v. Monroe Police, et al, Docket No. MID-L-2966-18. Robinson’s attorney was Steven A. Varano of Little Falls. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement’s terms to others, including the media. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

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 Monroe Township or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Monroe or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather Robinson $75,000 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.

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