FTPD Lieutenant Charges Sex Discrimination, Harassment In Lawsuit Against Township, Department

Franklin Township Police Department Lt. Kristen Durham, foreground, has filed a discrimination and civil rights lawsuit against the township and police department. (File photo.)

A female township police lieutenant faced a steady stream of gender discrimination from top police brass and other officials that culminated earlier this year in her being placed on administrative leave after a “manufactured” claim of harassment was lodged against her, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

Additionally, the Franklin Township Police officer, Lt. Kristen Durham, charges in the suit that she faced retaliation from the FTPD senior officers when she complained about alleged discriminatory practices against her and minority female officers.

The five-count complaint was filed on May 8 in state Superior Court, Somerville, by Durham, a 21-year veteran on the force. Named as defendants are Franklin Township, the Franklin Township Police Department and 10 John Does.

The 35-page complaint mentions Township Manager Robert Vornlocker, Police Chief Richard Grammar, FTPD Capt. Greg Borlan, FTPD Lt. Mark Reiner, FTPD Det. Ken Daly and former Chief Lawrence Roberts.

Durham was placed on an administrative leave of absence in January 2018 following the filing of an internal affairs complaint made against her by another officer, according to the complaint. In her lawsuit, Durham labels that complaint as “bogus,” and alleges that it was done in retaliation for a Notice of Tort Claim – notification to a public body that a lawsuit is imminent – that she filed earlier in January.

“Not only do defendants’ actions smack of retaliation, but they also evidence disparate treatment, as multiple other male officers in the department, including Chief (Richard) Grammar, have been accused of harassment and bullying, but the department did not open Internal Affairs investigations, and no singularly situated male officers were placed on administrative leave and/or forced to appear for a fitness-for-duty examination,” the complaint states.

In her complaint, Durham alleges that she was repeatedly passed over for promotions and training opportunities for white men who were allegedly favored by Roberts, Grammar and other department officials.

“She has also been the victim of retaliation because of her actual and/or perceived support of female, African-American and Hispanic officers in the department and her opposition to defendants’ illegal employment practices,” according to the complaint.

The suit is the second complaint of discrimination to be filed against the department in the past year. In June 2017, Sgt. Dennis Hopson, a 22-year department veteran who is African-American, filed a complaint charging the department with racial discrimination.

In her complaint, Durham lists a number of alleged instances when she was either discriminated against or faced retaliatory measures from superiors because of her opposition to certain practices.

“The acts of discrimination and retaliation include, but are not limited to, disparate treatment, a hostile work environment, her promotional bypass to the rank of captain, the denial of training opportunities, the denial of specialized assignments and overtime, the undermining of her authority and responsibilities as a supervisor, bogus disciplinary investigations, petty acts of harassment, and other adverse employment actions,” according to the suit.

Former Chief Roberts “misused his positional power to bully, intimidate and harass officers at the department,” the suit charges. “He often bragged that Title 40 protects his actions and allows him to do ‘whatever (he) wants’. He has even stated that he will terminate any officer who files suit against him,” according to the complaint.

Title 40 is the section of state laws that applies to municipalities and counties.

The complaint states that out of 105 members of the department, 11 of them are women and that Durham is “the first – and only – female lieutenant in the department.”

Click here to read the entire complaint.

“Consistent with this male-dominated environment, male supervisors in the department publicly engaged in affairs and openly discussed their sexual trysts with women,” according to the complaint. “One superior, gripped by jealousy, even ordered plaintiff to watch a subordinate with whom he was having an affair when he was not at work and to report whether any male officers spoke to her. This type of conduct has been long-condoned in the department.”

As the department’s recruitment officer, Durham says in the complaint, she has been subject to retaliation when she complained about less-favorable treatment being given to minority officers than to white officers.

The complaint gives the example of Sgt. Jolanda Lacewell, an African-American women, who in January 2015 found bacon and steaks stuffed in the waist band of a shoplifting suspect after two white male officers said they had given the suspect a thorough pat-down and found nothing.

According to the complaint, Lacewell sent out a department-wide email complaining of the incident, “expressing the lack of concern for her safety, as well as the general disregard for female officers in the department” after which Roberts allegedly ordered Durham to find “a supervisor school for Lacewell for re-training.”

Durham, according to the complaint, objected, arguing that the “real issue was a clear lack of respect for a female officer and supervisor.”

The complaint also states that there is a “glass ceiling” in the department when it comes to women and minority advancement, including Durham.

The complaint references an incident in May and June 2016, when, it alleges Durham was passed over for a promotion to captain in favor of now-Capt. Greg Borlan, “despite the fact that plaintiff was more senior in rank and otherwise more qualified for promotion.”

Borlan’s promotion, the complaint alleges, “was capricious and arbitrary because it consisted of only a highly subjective administrative review of the candidate’s essays, personnel files and oral interviews. There was no written examination, no established point system, no credit for seniority, no ranking released, no oversight and no protections against bias and favoritism.”

“The entire promotional process, however, was manifestly corrupt, arbitrary, capricious and conspicuously unreasonable,” the complaint alleges. “The process, as written and applied, was fraught with favoritism and predisposed to bias and subjectivity.”

The complaint alleges that the process was geared to “reach the defendant’s desired result, the promotion of a favored candidate over plaintiff, who was a woman and who had repeatedly angered  police administration with reports of wrongdoing and her actual and perceived support of other women, African-Americans and Hispanics.”

The complaint details a number of other allegations of instances where Durham was passed over for promotions, denied plum assignments and not allowed to take training that would have furthered her career.

Durham charges that in 2016, Grammar asked her if she would rather report directly to him than Roberts, and she said yes. Grammar never made the change, according to the lawsuit.

Durham has “suffered discrimination and disparate treatment resulting in a hostile work environment, a failure to address her complaints, the undermining of her authority as a supervisor, petty acts of harassment, a promotional bypass, and other acts of disparate treatment,” according to the complaint. “The department and township have failed to take any real or proper corrective action, despite being put on notice of the discrimination and retaliation suffered by plaintiff, and have instead responded with additional efforts to harass her, to retaliate against her, and to punish her for voicing valid complaints about the department.”

The lawsuit contains five counts: harassment on the basis of sex, discrimination on the basis of sex, retaliation in violation of the state Law Against Discrimination, violation of Durham’s civil rights, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Township attorney Louis Rainone could not be reached for comment.


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