On October 19, 2021, the Township of Lower (Cape May County) agreed to pay $130,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a female patrol officer who claimed that she was repeatedly passed over for promotion, discriminated against during her pregnancies and had to endure her buttocks being groped by a training instructor.
In her lawsuit, Kaitlin Black, who was hired by the department in 2013, claimed that starting in 2015 she was passed over several times for promotions to detective in favor of a less qualified male officers. She also claimed that she had been reprimanded for “the same workplace behaviors that male officers routinely engage in without reprimand” and that when she was interviewed for the detective position, the male officers on the interview board sighed and rolled their eyes when as she spoke.
She further alleged that had been subjected to “sexist critiques and comments” and was twice “groped on the buttocks by a training instructor.” When she complained to her supervisor, Dave Fisher, she was told that she was being “too sensitive,” “bitchy” and overreacting, according to the lawsuit. Black claimed that Lt. Doug Whitten told her “that women are ‘ditsy,’ ‘unintelligent,’ ’emotional,’ and specifically stated: ‘No offense, Kaitlin. But all you women are the same.'”
Black alleged that the department’s then chief, Bill Mastriana, made derogatory comments and accused her of lying about her light duty accommodations when she was pregnant in 2018. She claimed that Mastriana asked Captain Donald Vanaman to tell her that her “time on light duty was up” even though she was in her third trimester. She said that she was also harasssed because of her second pregnancy in 2019.
She claimed that these allegations, along with others that can be reviewed in the lawsuit at the link below, violated her right under Law Against Discrimination to be free of a hostile work environment.
According to the Township’s response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Black has achieved the rank of detective since her suit was filed on March 17, 2020 and that she earns a $73,478 annual salary. Of the $130,000 settlement, $78,000 went to Black and $52,000 went to her attorney.
The case is captioned Kaitlin Black v. Lower Township, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-88-20
and Black’s attorney was Sebastian B. Ionno of Pitman. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.
None of 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 officials named in the lawsuit. All that is known for sure is that Lower or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Black $130,000 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.