When it comes to the men and women of our state’s police departments, most New Jersey residents expect the very best in terms of discipline and ability. Anyone with a history of insubordination or who cannot be trusted to keep the public safe could rightfully be at risk of termination.
But what if a police officer is fired due to a single incident, which appears mostly to have been the fault of his captain? Is that a justifiable firing, or a wrongful termination, perhaps due to discrimination?
In the case of a former North Bergen police officer, it appears that the latter was true. The officer was fired in 2012, but an administrative law judge recently ruled that he should get his job back. The judge found that a single argument with a superior did not justify his termination when stacked up against an otherwise spotless 13-year record.
The firing came after a captain chastised the officer for not throwing away a street sign that had blown over. The officer explained that he was waiting for the state Department of Transportation to provide instructions. But the captain loudly yelled that he was disobeying orders. The captain screamed “Why?” over and over, until the officer lost his temper and shouted in reply.
Based on that incident, and an interview with a psychiatrist, the North Bergen department found that the officer had been “disrespectful” and “insubordinate,” and was a danger to the public. Writing in her 10-page opinion, the judge agreed that he had been — that one time.
Otherwise, his record included a perfect evaluation from the same psychiatrist months earlier. He had served in the department for 13 years, and had recently earned the highest score in the department on the sergeant’s test.
In other words, the judge found, the firing was an overreaction. The officer suspects that the real reason was more troubling. He and his attorney believe that the department did not want to have to promote him to sergeant because he is Latino.
Now, it appears, he may have the chance to test that theory.
Source: News 12 New Jersey, “KIYC: North Bergen officer to be rehired after wrongful termination,” Oct. 28, 2013