A jury will decide whether a black senior employee of the Township of Monroe in Gloucester County lost his job because of racial bias.
Elvis Gooden was appointed the town’s chief financial officer and director of finance in 2001. Mayor Michael Gabbianelli reappointed Gooden in 2003, although records indicated problems with his performance as early as 2001.
During township meetings, council member Richard Gledhill allegedly directed racist comments toward Gooden, asking him to show proof of citizenship and calling him “the token black employee.” Gooden formally complained about the comments in July 2004.
After that, Gooden said town employees began refusing to give him the resources necessary to do his job. In August 2004, Gooden said the mayor asked him to drop his complaints. By October, Gabbianelli had stopped speaking to him altogether.
In March 2005, the town fired Gooden, allegedly for failure to perform his duties. Gooden requested a hearing to appeal the firing. The hearing ended inconclusively on the issue of whether Gooden still had a job—but the mayor did suspend paying Gooden’s salary and announced that his job would be posted. That’s when Gooden sued for discrimination and retaliation.
A court sent Gooden’s charges to trial, ruling that, while the township gave Gooden a hearing before officially terminating him, the fact that the mayor stopped Gooden’s pay and posted his job indicated the outcome of the hearing was “predetermined.” Further, the fact that Gooden’s performance had not changed during the course of his tenure—but the township’s dealings with him had changed dramatically—pointed to a retaliatory motive.
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