In September 2020, the Township of Haddon (Camden County, NJ) quietly paid $275,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by four officers who claimed that they were subjected to inappropriate sexual comments and behavior by the police chief.
In their lawsuit, Captain Scott Bishop, Lieutenant Sean Gooley and Sergeants Tom Whalen and Joseph Johnston claimed that Haddon Police Chief Mark Cavallo engaged in “same-sex sexual harassment” that created a hostile work environment for them. According to their 2018 lawsuit, Bishop complained to Township Commissioner John Foley about Cavallo’s alleged conduct in February 2016 while the other three officers complained to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office in October of the same year.
Cavallo engaged in “pervasive and predatory sexual harassment” including rubbing the officers’ inner and upper thighs, blowing kisses toward them, flicking his tongue in a sexual manner, grabbing his groin and pulling his pants down in front of the officers, according to the lawsuit. Cavallo was also alleged to have made inappropriate comments to the officers such as “I could just eat you up,” Turn around, let me see what you got” and “Talk dirty to me, baby.”
Bishop claimed that in February 2017 he was directed to vacate his office and move to a downstairs office “as per Mayor [Randall] Teague and the Commissioners.” On the same day, Bishop claimed that the Township had a locksmith change his office door lock and open up cabinets in his office that contained confidential internal affairs files. Bishop claimed that this was done to retaliate against him.
All four officers alleged that they received retaliatory written reprimands in February 2017 for meeting with Commissioner Foley to report Cavallo’s alleged misconduct. According to the lawsuit, the four officers were reprimanded for violating the chain of command and for publicly criticizing a superior officer.
At about the same time, Whalen and Johnston said that when they were interviewed for an open lieutenant’s position, they were asked by Township Attorney Stuart Platt, in the presence of Chief Cavallo, what they thought of the letters of reprimand which the pair claimed was done to intimidate and harass them. No one had been promoted to the lieutenant position as of the filing of the 2018 lawsuit, according to Whalen and Johnston.
The lawsuit goes on to make several other allegations, including claims that: Chief Cavallo sent a department-wide e-mail in 2017 regarding an investigation of the sexual harassment claims, Personnel Director Betty Band demanded that Bishop and Johnston complete an unnecessary complaint form in her presence and that Band questioned the four officers’ fitness for duty and required them to provide medical clearance to continue their employment. The officers also claimed that Mayor Teague was quoted in a newspaper as having implied that the officers’ sexual harassment complaints were being made to give the officers an advantage in securing the lieutenant’s position.
According to the settlement documents, Gooley and Bishop each received $18,575 of the $275,000 while Johnston received $59,440 and Whalen received $178,410.
The lawsuit received media attention when it was filed (e.g. it was reported on by NJ Advance Media and Philly Voice) but this is the first time that the settlement amount has been publicized.
In their settlement agreements, Johnston and Whalen agreed that they “will not apply for nor seek a promotion of any kind during the remainder of [their] employment with the Township in any capacity.”
The case is captioned Scott Bishop, et al, v. Haddon Township, Docket No. CAM-L-1166-18 and four officers were represented by Jeffrey R. Caccese of Moorestown. The lawsuit and settlement agreements are on-line here.
The settlement agreements contains confidentiality clauses, under which four officers agreed to keep the settlements and their 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 the four officers’ allegations have been proven or disproven in court. These are merely allegations and no one has proved that any Township official, including Cavello, Band, Teague and Platt, have done anything wrong or improper. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing. All that is known for sure is that Haddon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the four officers a total $275,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle 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 settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.