SOMERSET, NJ -- Franklin Township agreed to a settlement with the police department’s first female lieutenant who sued the township in 2018 for gender discrimination. The lawsuit claims police officials harassed Kristen Durham and when her official complaints went unanswered, police leadership retaliated against her by launching an internal affairs investigation that the complaint calls “bogus.”
The Township signed off on the agreement in early August, in which Durham received $300,000 and will remain with the department on paid administrative leave until June 2021 or when she reaches 25 years of service with the department. Durham filed the suit against the township on May 8, 2018 after being with the department since 1996 and promoted to lieutenant in 2012.
The township denied all of Durham’s allegations and said the settlement was based on “purely financial considerations” after the township conducted a cost-benefit analysis.
Durham, led the police’s Professional Services Division at the time of the lawsuit, alleged that former Chief Lawrence Roberts “used his positional power to bully, intimidate and harass” officers and when Durham filed a complaint she was put under an internal affairs investigation in retaliation. Roberts retired in 2018 and was replaced by Richard Grammar, who would serve as the township’s final chief of police.
TAP here for the complaint and settlement agreement.
The lawsuit paints a bleak picture of life at the department for women and minority officers, who, the complaint says, were routinely passed over for promotions in favor of less-qualified white male officers.
The complaint claims that the department’s promotional process was “fraught with favoritism and [is] predisposed to bias and subjectivity,” and says that subjective parts of the process -- in-person interviews and submitted essays -- were unfairly given more weight than written examinations, which the suit says are a more objective measure of fitness.
Instead of a written exam -- similar to those required for promotion to lieutenant and sergeant -- candidates for captain have their personnel file reviewed, must submit a series of essays on their qualifications and are interviewed by department and township officials. Further, diverging from the lower command positions, neither seniority nor education is taken into account in ranking candidates for promotion to captain.
In July, the township council adjusted the requirements for promotion to captain, doing away with the oral interview. TAP here to read the revised ordinance.
The lawsuit claims that this method allowed Roberts and then-Deputy Chief Richard Grammar, who were present for the oral interviews, to overlook Durham for promotion because she “was a woman and had repeatedly angered police administration with reports of wrongdoing and her actual and perceived support of other women, African-American and Hispanics.”
Both Grammar and Borlan are no longer with the department, both retiring abruptly following the revelation of overtime abuse within the department last year. At the time of their retirement, Grammar was the chief of police and Borlan a captain. The township then restructured the police department following their resignations and the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office announcement of an investigation into the time off abuse.
The county’s investigation ultimately found that there wasn’t enough documentation to prove misuse of the time off policy and said that it didn’t appear there was criminal conduct or administrative abuse. However, the prosecutor’s office said that it appeared the chief and captain either approved or directed others to approve the time off for “any particular officer they chose to grant such time.”
After the resignation of the top brass, officials got rid of the chief of police in favor of a civilian public safety director, ultimately appointing Quovella Spruill as the new head of the department in April.
Durham officially filed her complaint on Jan. 2, 2018. Following the complaint, the lawsuit claims Durham received a “bogus, manufactured” internal affairs complaint, ultimately putting her on administrative leave and sending her for a fitness of duty examination.
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