A Mercer County Superior Court jury has awarded a former Princeton police officer $450,000 in compensatory damages—plus $75,000 in punitive damages—after it decided the borough retaliated against him for filing a civil rights complaint.
Princeton officials say they will appeal the jury’s decision.
Officer Gary Mitchell, who is black, apparently had a difficult relationship with former Police Chief Anthony Federico. Federico, who died in 2009, was white.
Mitchell, an 18-year veteran of the force, began complaining in 2006 that Federico was “setting him up to be either suspended or terminated.” He said Federico repeatedly denied his request to drive a police SUV to accommodate his height, singled out his police reports for extra scrutiny and denied him additional pay for shifts where he was the officer in charge.
Mitchell filed a departmental complaint alleging Federico’s actions were racially motivated. The next day, Mitchell learned the department’s internal affairs division was investigating him for “insubordination, lack of truthfulness, falsifying a police report and violating the ‘loyalty to the department’ regulation.”
That’s when Mitchell sued for discrimination and retaliation. The jury ultimately decided the department hadn’t discriminated, but that it did retaliate against Mitchell. The deciding factor: the close timing between Mitchell’s complaint and the start of the internal affairs investigation.
The jury award is not the first for Princeton’s police department. Earlier this year, a jury awarded Sgt. Kenneth Riley approximately $400,000 after it determined the department illegally fired him.
Advice: Courts often look at the timing of allegedly retaliatory actions. Make sure you have thorough documentation to back up any disciplinary action you plan to take.
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Don't punish manager for telling employee he may be discrimination victim
- EEOC netted $525 million for bias victims in FY2015
- Employee does not have to specify race to invoke protection
- Following baseless complaint, ensure later discipline is legit