Video of the harassment at bottom of article
New Jersey – Five Mountainside police officers and a part-time dispatcher will share a $2.45 million settlement after alleging workplace harassment and bullying.
The accusations — including repeated displays of a dildo named “Big Blue,” pranks involving nudity, a homophobic barb known as the “gazer game,” racial slurs and other misdeeds — were aired in a May 2018 lawsuit against Mountainside.
Officers Jeffrey Stinner, Christopher Feighner, Richard Latargia, Thomas Norton and James Urban, and part-time dispatcher Amy Colineri said in the lawsuit they were subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation. Some allegations were from nearly two decades earlier.
The Mountainside Council voted 5-1 on Sept. 15 to approve the resolution authorizing the settlement, which will be paid by the borough’s insurance company.
The settlement states that Mountainside denies all wrongdoing, and that both sides agreed to it “for the purpose of avoiding the burden and expense of litigation.”
Councilman Rene Dierkas cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I felt very strongly we should take this to court,” Dierkas told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday.
Dierkas said he did not form a conclusion on the merits of the lawsuit, explaining that his objection stemmed from the settlement amount.
“I just don’t think they would have gotten anywhere near that,” Dierkas said, referencing a hypothetical outcome at trial.
While only the borough was named as a defendant, many of the allegations in the lawsuit focused on two now-former Mountainside police officers, Lt. Thomas Murphy and Detective Sgt. Andrew Huber.
The lawsuit also charged that former police chief James Debbie — who was Mountainside’s administrator in 2018 — and then-Borough Police Chief Allan Attanasio were aware of various alleged misdeeds but took no action to intervene.
Murphy was was suspended without pay upon the borough filing disciplinary charges against him and retired earlier this year, Mayor Paul Mirabelli said Tuesday.
Asked about the outcome, Mirabelli said, “I think the resolution speaks for itself.”
The lawsuit extensively detailed the allegations, including a “large dildo” that Huber allegedly kept in his desk drawer and later in his filing cabinet at headquarters. It first appeared around 2007 or 2008, according to the lawsuit.
“While Plaintiff Stinner was assigned to the detective bureau, Stinner would be subjected to Big Blue on an almost daily basis. Huber would wave around Big Blue, throw it within the detective bureau, and throw it at people walking past the detective bureau,” the lawsuit stated.
At one point, Urban saw Big Blue in a coffee mug and threw it in the trash — yet it “reappeared” some time afterward at headquarters, according to the lawsuit.
No one complained to police higher-ups until 2012 when Norton and another officer, unnamed in the lawsuit, notified a “member of the police administration,” also unnamed, on the same day an attorney was making a presentation on sexual harassment, the lawsuit states.
“During this presentation, the attorney stated that sex toys have no place in the workplace and having same was grounds for immediate termination,” the lawsuit states.
Murphy allegedly brought a different dildo to a PBA dinner dance in 2014. The lawsuit states that he waved it above his head and in the faces of others — at one point directly in front of Stinner’s wife, who walked away.
Charles J. Sciarra, attorney for the plaintiffs, issued a written statement on the outcome.
“The matter has been amicably resolved,” Sciarra said.
Dierkas, in discussing his opposition to settling, acknowledged concerns that the borough could have been on the hook for the officers’ legal fees if the case had gone to trial.
“I understand why my colleagues voted in favor of settling,” Dierkas said.
Mountainside Police Chief Joseph Giannuzzi did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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