Township: FTPD Does Not Discriminate Against Minority Officers

FTPD Chief Lawrence Roberts is among the township officials being sued for discrimination by a member of the police department.

The Franklin Township Police sergeant charging the department with discrimination was denied further promotions not because of his race, but because he did not meet the department’s conduct or performance expectations.

That assertion was among the defenses presented by the township in response to the civil lawsuit filed by Franklin Township Police Department Sgt. Dennis Hopson.

Hopson, a North Brunswick resident and 22-year veteran of the police force, filed the lawsuit on June 5, in which he alleges there is a “culture of racism” at the FTPD that has resulted in minority officers like himself being skipped over in promotions and more desirable assignments in favor of their white counterparts.

Named as defendants are Franklin Township, the FTPD, FTPD Chief Lawrence Roberts, FTPD Deputy Chief Richard Grammar and Township Manager Robert Vornlocker.

The suit was originally mistakenly filed in Superior Court in New Brunswick. The case was re-assigned to Somerset County on Aug. 18 at the request of the township.

Hopson, who according to state records earned $140,086 in 2016, is claiming two violations of the state’s Law Against Discrimination: treating minority officers differently because of their races, and creating a hostile work environment based on race.

Among other remedies, Hopson is demanding that he be immediately promoted to lieutenant, given back and front pay, punitive and compensatory damages and damages for emotional distress.

Parsippany based attorney Brian Hak, who was retained by the township’s insurance carrier, represents all the defendants under the umbrella of the township. In its response, filed July 24, the township denies any “willful and wanton” actions taken “in reckless disregard of Plaintiff’s rights,” as the complaint charges, and claims that the decision to not promote Hopson was “in the best interest of the public.”

The defendants had “legitimate, justifiable reasons for all acts and omissions that are the subject of this complaint,” according to the filing.

“All actions taken by the defendants were proper and reasonable and in accordance with the law,” according to the filing. The plaintiff “did not meet his employer’s legitimate job performance expectations” and “did not meet his employer’s legitimate conduct expectations,” according to the filing.

In his suit, Hopson alleges that over the last 20 years, white police officers were hired “in overwhelming disproportion to minority police officers of African-American descent and other minorities.”

Since 2007, the suit alleges, three African-American police officers were hired, in contrast to 29 white officers, one Hispanic and one native of India.

No African-American officer has risen above the rank of sergeant since 1998, according to the suit.

“As a result of this culture of racism at the Franklin Township Police Department, Sgt. Hopson and other minority police officers have been treated disproportionately because of their race in seeking promotional opportunities within the department, according to the suit.

The department has consistently “ignored” the two most important components in promotion consideration – seniority and education, respectively – “in favor of subjective evaluations, such as oral interviews,” according to the suit.

The suit contends that during one promotional round, four African-American officers holding Masters Degrees were skipped over for promotion to sergeant in favor of a white officer “with less formal education.”

Hopson claims he has been denied appointments as a firearms instructor, to the Somerset County Emergency Response Team, the Crime Suppression Unit and advanced leadership training in the Command and Leadership school, “which is provided to prepare sergeants for the next rank of lieutenant.”

Hopson said in the complaint that he was never given the opportunity to become a firearms instructor, and that there are now nine instructors, all of whom are white and only two of whom are senior to Hopson.

Hopson said in the complaint that while he was told he was not being appointed to the Crime Suppression Unit because he did not have experience in the detective bureau, white officers such as “Kristen Durham (assigned to the Juvenile Aid Bureau as a supervisor), Lt. Mark Reiner (appointed as commander to the Detective Bureau), and Sgt. Eric Hagman (in charge of the Traffic Bureau) all had no prior experience prior to being appointed to such positions.”

“Also, no other African-American sergeants have ever been sent to Command and Leadership School (including five current African-American sergeants), which aids in the promotion of officers to the rank of lieutenant,” according to the complaint.

Hopson is represented by Gerald Jay Resnick of Roseland.

According to statistics released earlier this year, the FTPD employs 104 sworn officers, of which 14, or 14 percent, are African-American, nine are Hispanic men, one is a Lebanese man and one is an Asian man. White men and women number 79, which is 76 percent of the sworn officers.

FTPD spokesman Lt. Philip Rizzo said the department does not keep statistics on diversity in the department’s supervisory ranks.

In June 2016, Chief Roberts was given an award by the North Jersey Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which praised the chief for his efforts in helping make the FTPD the most ethnically diverse department of its size in the state.


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