2012-09-27 / Front Page

Detective accuses Hazlet officials of racial bias

Federal lawsuit names mayor, administrator, police chief among others
BY KEITH HEUMILLER
Staff Writer

A Hazlet Police Department (HPD) detective filed a discrimination lawsuit against the township and multiple officials on Sept. 14, claiming he has been harassed and denied a promotion because of his ethnicity.

According to the complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Trenton, nine-year Hazlet PD veteran Jerry Burgos charged the township, the police department, the chief of police, the mayor, the business administrator and multiple other unidentified entities and individuals with creating or being willfully indifferent to discriminatory practices within the police department.

The complaint filed in federal court on behalf of Burgos identifies him as a “Hispanic (Puerto Rican) male,” and cites four separate civil rights counts of racial discrimination, disparate treatment and fostering and/or ignoring a hostile work environment.

“Chief [James] Broderick directly participated in the creation of this hostile work environment and his conduct contributed to and/or caused the racially hostile working environment,” the complaint reads.

“Chief Broderick participated in the harassment of Detective Burgos because of Detective Burgos’s race.

“Mayor [David] Tinker and [administrator] Brian Valentino were willfully indifferent to the hostile working environment at the HPD. Hazlet [Township] failed to have in place effective policies and procedures for Detective Burgos to utilize to complain about the hostile working environment.”

Burgos is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, court costs and “such other and further relief that the court deems equitable and just.”

He has also requested a jury trial.

Valentino, who said he could not speak at length about the case because it is an open matter of litigation, vehemently denied the accusations on Sept. 20.

“The charges are completely false as the facts will plainly prove,” he said. “We look forward to a vigorous defense if and when these baseless charges ever see the inside of a courtroom.”

Burgos’s complaint states that he is the only minority officer on the force and during his time with the Hazlet PD he has been harassed and ridiculed for being Puerto Rican.

He contends that on multiple occasions other Hazlet police officers made derogatory remarks about Hispanics and placed racist photographs and objects in the headquarters building.

“Burgos’s fellow officers subjected him to comments like ‘you Puerto Ricans, you’re always stealing hubcaps,’ ” reads the complaint, “and ‘you Puerto Ricans, you’re good with knives.’ ”

In addition, the complaint states that “Burgos was often referred to by his fellow officers as ‘Jose,’ which was the name of the HPD janitor, who is also Hispanic.”

In one instance, the complaint alleges that Broderick and Tinker approved of KKK memorabilia and photographs being prominently displayed at police headquarters.

This past year, according to the suit, Burgos was in line for a promotion to sergeant and was informed by Broderick on April 25 that he had gotten the job.

After inviting friends and family from around the state to attend his promotion ceremony May 1, Burgos alleges that Broderick called him hours before the ceremony was supposed to begin and told him that he was no longer being promoted because of a clerical error.

“The entire ‘promotion’ was a sham, and an effort to embarrass Detective Burgos because of his race,” reads the complaint.

Burgos said his was the top name on the HPD’s “Eligible Promotion List” at the time, and the offer of a promotion was just a way to get his name off the list.

“The effect of this was to remove Detective Burgos, the only Hispanic in the HPD, from the top of the list,” reads his complaint.

“Now, a Caucasian officer is the topranked officer on the list to be promoted. The town currently has a vacancy at the sergeant position and must promote an officer to sergeant.

“The actions taken by the defendants were solely to embarrass and humiliate Detective Burgos because of his race and to prevent the promotion of a racial minority in the HPD.”

Burgos’s attorney Adam J. Kleinfeldt, of Ginarte, O’Dwyer, Gonzalez, Gallardo & Winograd, Newark, said in an interview on Sept. 20 that a trial date has not yet been set. The law firm of Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri, Jacobs, Matawan, is labor counsel for Hazlet Township.

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