In November 2021, the Borough of Closter (Bergen County) paid $150,000 to a former probationary police office who claimed that he was subjected to a hostile work environment due to his ethnicity and fired in retaliation for his whistle blowing activities.
In his October 2019 lawsuit, Nelson Sanchez, who described himself as “a dark-skinned Latino man,” said that shortly after his October 1, 2016 hiring he was assigned to Sergeant Vincent Sarubbi for guidance and training. Sanchez claimed that he “was appalled and felt uncomfortable” by some of Sarubbi’s comments. Among them were Sarubbi’s alleged direction to pull over “shady” cars that look like they do not belong in Closter and his alleged remark that New Milford, Dumont and Bergenfield have changed, and that they have a lot of “shitums” now. Sanchez also claimed that Lieutenant Thomas Brueck would often refer to him as “Soul Glow” which Sanchez says “is a commonly known reference to Africa-American curly hair.”
Sanchez also claimed that Detective Keith Dombkowski and Detective Sarubbi (presumably the same person as Sergeant Vincent Sarubbi) “became irate” after learning that Sanchez had his mobile recorder on during a domestic violence call and recorded them using foul language and threating the male suspect. He claimed that Dombkowski and Sarubbi “adjusted the report” after learning that they had been recorded. After objecting to the alleged alteration of the report, Sanchez claimed that Borough officials took retaliatory action against him.
Even though he was previously praised for his performance, Sanchez said on August 23, 2017 Chief Dennis Kaine presented him with three departmental violation notices and thirteen performance notice write-ups. He said that most of the write-ups had to do with the way he wrote his reports. Sanchez claimed that his request to attend a class on proper report writing was denied and that he was told to look at old reports as a guide.
The following month, Sanchez said that he was again asked to meet with Chief Kaine. This time, he alleged, Kaine expressed concerned that Sanchez had been pulling over fewer vehicles. Even though he attributed his decline in in traffic stops to the fact that he had been absent from patrol due to a vacation and a workshop, Sanchez claimed he received an additional seven performance write-ups. He claimed “the performance write-ups were bogus and a pretext for discrimination against [him] based on his ethnicity.”
Sanchez was notified that his employment would be discussed at the October 25, 2017 Borough Council meeting. At the meeting, Sanchez said that he told the Mayor and Council that up until he first met with Chief Kaine, he thought that his superiors were pleased with his performance. He also claimed to have told them that he received no support from his superiors, such as assistance writing reports. After the meeting he was suspended with pay and terminated by the Borough Council at its next meeting, according to the lawsuit. Sanchez made other allegations of mistreatment that can be read at the lawsuit linked below.
Chief Kaine and Mayor John C. Glidden, Jr. were named as defendants in the lawsuit. Of the $150,000 settlement, Sanchez received $97,164.51 and his attorney received the remaining $52,835.49. According to the Borough’s July 18, 2022 Open Public Records Act response, Sanchez earned an annual salary of $54,836.64 while working for Closter and Sergeant, who still works for the department, earns $162,756.68 annually.
The case is captioned Nelson Sanchez v. Closter Police Department, et al, Docket No. BER-L-7103-19 and the Sanchez’s attorney was Sheila E. O’Shea-Criscione of Hackensack. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which the Sanchez agreed that the settlement and its terms and amounts be kept confidential. 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.
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 employees or officials named in the lawsuit. Sanchez’s allegations are just that–allegations. All that is known for sure is that Closter Borough or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sanchez $150,000 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.