UNION, NJ – A retired Union Township police officer was awarded $355,000 after a jury returned a verdict against the township on one claim arising under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination based on gender. The jury concluded that township officials discriminated against her by denying her lifetime benefits upon her retirement.
MaryAnne Cosimano, Union’s first female police officer, retired from the Union Police Department in 2010. She has paid her own health benefits since because the township said she fell short of the 25 years of service needed to be eligible for lifetime health benefits.
The jury also returned a verdict against the township’s police director, Daniel Zieser, based on a theory of aiding and abetting gender discrimination under that New Jersey law.
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According to Township Attorney Daniel Antonelli, the township is both surprised and disappointed by the jury's decision. "The verdict conflicts with the final judgment of the Superior Court of New Jersey upholding an arbitration award that found that Ms. Cosimano was not contractually entitled to lifetime health insurance paid for by the taxpayers of Union at the time she retired," he said.
As a result of two conflicting court decisions, Township Administrator Ronald Manzella said, "The township is considering all of its options, including appealing the decision to the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals."
The township argued that Cosimano was not eligible for health benefits at the time she retired in 2010 because she lacked sufficient service as a township employee and a sworn law enforcement officer.
Cosimano joined the department in 1986 as a dispatcher. She became a patrol officer and was promoted to detective in 2000. In May 2010, Cosimano was reassigned back to the patrol division and filed a grievance at the time. Cosimano’s attorneys maintain she was improperly demoted.
Cosimano’s attorneys allege that officials denied her lifetime benefits because of gender discrimination and as retaliation for the grievance.
“Obviously, the Township is disappointed that the jury’s decision which seemed to be one of emotion rather than one based on the law and evidence,” said Township Assistant Business Administrator Tammie Kopin.
“There was no evidence that our police director had substantial involvement in Human Resource’s determination that Cosimano was not entitled to the health benefits as is clearly laid out in the contract,” added Kopin.
The judgment of $355,000 is based on estimates of past and future health insurance premiums.
Before joining the police department, Cosimano worked a year in state Motor Vehicle Commission before joining the Union Police. Township officials say Cosimano waived her year of service with that agency as part of a union agreement.