A harassment suit brought by one former officer will proceed to trial, while the township faces a suit from another ex-officer as well as a notice of potential litigation from a quartet of active-duty police.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 1, 2017
When the Haddon Township municipal government replaced outgoing Commissioner John Foley with attorney Jim Mulroy last week, the commissioners all cited Mulroy’s contract negotiation experience as a key factor in his appointment.
Now it appears the commission may benefit from his trial expertise as well, as the township faces legal action from a number of current and former officers, all while its police chief, senior officers, and rank-and-file are working under expired contracts.
Tuesday night’s meeting of the local government went into executive session to discuss the filings, which include a tort claims notice from four active-duty members of the department.
That precursor to a civil complaint was brought by Haddon Township Police Captain Scott Bishop, Sergeant Sean Gooley, Detective Sergeant Joe Johnston, and Sergeant Thomas Whalen. Haddon Township Mayor Randy Teague said it makes claims against Haddon Township Police Chief Mark Cavallo.
After the executive session Tuesday night, Teague said the township intends to investigate the matter fully.
“We’re taking the appropriate action and investigating any and all allegations,” Teague said.
Attorney Eric Riso of the Stratford-based Platt and Riso, P.C. will handle the case. NJ Pen has filed an OPRA request to obtain a copy of the notice.
Wrongful termination, harassment suits
The township also faces a pair of lawsuits: one from former Officer Jason DeMent, and one from Special Officer Class II Denise Brodo.
Both appeared on Tuesday’s closed-session agenda.
DeMent’s complaint was filed in 2015; it alleges that Cavallo refused to modify his duties as DeMent battled a degenerative eye disease. DeMent also claims Cavallo eventually fired him when he refused the chief’s alleged sexual advances.
In November 2016, DeMent’s federal case against the township was dismissed, as U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler ruled the township had not violated the Family and Medical Leave Act in its firing of DeMent.
But a similar motion to dismiss the case recently was unsuccessful in Superior Court, as reported by the Courier-Post. DeMent’s civil suit now is expected to proceed to the discovery phase.
Attorney Christine P. O’Hearn of Brown and Connery, LLP, who is defending the township in superior court, said the judgment to allow the case to proceed was “not a substantive decision on the merits of DeMent’s claims.
“The Township denies the allegations, intends to continue to vigorously defend the case, and will again seek dismissal of the case later in the litigation,” O’Hearn said Wednesday.
Brodo’s suit was filed in April 2016. Haddon Township had previously settled a whistleblower suit with Brodo in 2015 for $48,000, as reported by John Paff of the NJ Civil Settlements blog. The case hinges on her reporting alleged financial concerns regarding officer payments for side work to township compliance officer Betty Band in 2013.
In January 2016, Paff noted the settlement “expressly states that the $48,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing,” and that “none of Brodo’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court.”
Two months after that suit was settled, Brodo was fired, ostensibly for lateness. Her latest complaint alleges that firing was retaliation for her whistleblower suit. Brodo’s argument hinges on The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, which protects “employees who disclose, object to, or refuse to participate in certain actions” they believe to be illegal.
Cavallo’s personal attorney, Patrick Madden of the Haddonfield firm Madden & Madden, declined to comment on the cases. Neither did the chief, who was re-elected to the Haddon Township Board of Education in November, and who sits on the Board of Trustees at Paul VI High School, respond to requests for comment.
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