CALDWELL, NJ — Caldwell Police Lt. Michael Geary has filed an official notice of intent to sue both the Borough of Caldwell and Police Chief James Bongiorno.
Geary's attorney, Patrick Toscano of the Toscano Law Firm in Caldwell, said Geary would “not sit idly by and allow a superior officer to wrongfully and maliciously violate his constitutional rights.” Toscano said once the statutory 180-day waiting period elapses pursuant to this claim, the civil complaint will be filed forthwith.
Geary, the first and only Asian-American officer to be hired by the Caldwell Police Department, said he has never filed a formal complaint on his own behalf in fear of retaliation, but that he confided in others about what he feels is a hostile work environment marred by discrimination and incidences of retaliation allegedly initiated against him by Chief Bongiorno. Geary said the wrongful acts included psychological damage due to “constant workplace harassment, ethnic slurs, hostile work environment and retaliatory actions,” as well as damage to his personal and professional reputation.
“Lt. Geary is one of the finest law enforcement officers in the entire West Essex area, if not the entire county of Essex,” said Toscano. “His professional reputation is second to none, beyond reproach and something myriad younger officers try to emulate. The last thing he ever desired to do was to place the municipality he loves so dearly and long ago took an oath to protect and serve on notice of an intent to sue.”
From the time he was hired to the Caldwell Police Department in 2004, Geary, whose legal name at the time was Michael Fung, said he was harassed by both Caldwell superior and non-ranking officers who were allegedly making racial slurs about his ethnicity even before he officially joined the department, according to Donna Roman, a retired police officer and a longtime friend of Geary’s. Geary said he changed his name because he did not want to deal with the discriminatory atmosphere in his workplace.
It should be noted that the statements made against Bongiorno and other Caldwell Police Officers are merely allegations and that this is only an intent to sue, not a formal lawsuit at this time. TAPinto.net attempted to reach out to Bongiorno for comment on Monday, Aug. 1 but was unsuccessful. Caldwell Mayor Ann Dassing had no comment on the subject.
“As the Caldwell officers became comfortable with me, they told me the only reason why they hired me was because I was a minority and they wanted to lees the chances of a lawsuit from Donna Roman, who was also a minority as a woman and a Hispanic,” said Geary, who stated that most of the discriminatory jokes and comments from then on came from his then-supervisors Kurt Dombrowski and James Bongiorno. “Fearing retaliation from them as my supervisors, I didn’t say anything about how I was feeling to anyone in the Caldwell Police Department. I felt emotionally hurt and unhappy that I had to tolerate their inappropriate behavior.”
Geary also stated that he is often harassed about an incident in 2005 that occurred at a Jersey shore town and that Geary claims had no merit and was ultimately determined to have “no cause.” However, it was an incident that caused a brief suspension of pay from the Caldwell Police Department until the matter was investigated.
Upon returning to work, Geary said the other officers, specifically Bongiorno, made him feel uncomfortable and created a hostile work environment.
A year later, Geary claimed to overhear Bongiorno making ethnic, gender and sexually derogatory comments about a recently hired black female officer named Candace Marinaro prior to her starting her career, according to Geary’s statement. Geary stated that much of same occurred in 2006 when the borough hired Jessica Luszcz.
In 2016, Geary claimed that Marinaro came to him with a second harassment complaint against the chief. Following proper procedure, Geary said he advised the IA Bureau and demanded that it be forwarded to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, since this had allegedly not been done after Marinaro’s first complaint.
According to Geary, now a lieutenant whose duties include fielding any complaints from Caldwell Officers, Marinaro is the only officer who has submitted a formal, written complaint against the chief. Geary said he retaliated by “making the only women’s bathroom in the Caldwell Police Department a unisex one; wrote her up for calling out sick; checked on her whereabouts on patrol by following her around in his police vehicle; and made racial and sexist comments about her to officers of the Caldwell Police Department, but not in her presence.”
“Since the beginning of my career, I have dealt with numerous hardships in my employment with the Caldwell PD due to my ethnicity, the incident in 2005 and for speaking up on behalf of Officer Marinaro’s harassment complaints,” said Geary. “As an employee of the Borough of Caldwell and a ranked officer in the Caldwell Police Department, I am tired of being subjected to a hostile work environment and acts of discrimination and retaliation by Chief James Bongiorno.”