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Matawan officer sues police department after alleged retaliation

MATAWAN – Police Officer Jennifer Paglia is suing Matawan after she allegedly experienced a campaign of retaliatory harassment after she settled a sex discrimination lawsuit with the borough.

Paglia was hired by the Matawan Police Department in 1998.

In September 2013, Paglia filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court alleging sex and race discrimination against the borough, the Matawan Police Department, former police chief Jason Gallo, current Police Chief Thomas Falco and several John Does, according to the lawsuit.

Paglia and borough officials voluntarily resolved that lawsuit in a settlement agreement signed on Feb. 16, 2016. The settlement required the borough to pay Paglia a settlement by April 16, 2016.

All lawsuit settlements have to be approved by the Matawan Borough Council, according to attorney Steven Secare, who is representing the borough. Secare handled the 2013 lawsuit and said he remembers a $215,000 settlement was agreed upon to settle Paglia’s lawsuit.

In October 2018, Paglia filed a new lawsuit against Matawan in which she alleged, that after she settled her sex discrimination lawsuit in 2016, she began experiencing a campaign of retaliatory harassment from the borough.

In a response to that lawsuit, borough officials denied Paglia’s allegation.

Secare said Paglia is not on probation from the police department. He said she is working as a full-time officer with no restrictions. He said the 2018 lawsuit is ongoing and declined further comment.

According to Paglia’s 2018 lawsuit, between May 7, 2016 and Aug. 16, 2016, Matawan issued five notices of discipline against Paglia for alleged misconduct, neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming a public employee and various violations of general duties and responsibilities.

For four of those five notices of discipline, borough officials sought to suspend Paglia from her job for 50 days without pay.

On Oct. 16, 2016, borough officials ordered Paglia to submit to a psychiatric examination to determine her fitness for duty. She passed the examination and was determined fit for duty that same day, according to the lawsuit.

Paglia opposed the four disciplinary charges at a hearing on Jan. 30, 2018. Following the hearing, the hearing officer who had been hired by Matawan officials suspended Paglia for 16 days.

Borough officials suspended Paglia without pay for 16 days from Sept. 14, 2018 to Oct. 14, 2018, according to the lawsuit, which claims officials did not discipline male officers for the same or similar alleged offenses.

In filing and resolving a lawsuit that alleged sex discrimination, Paglia was protected by the Law Against Discrimination. The borough’s unpaid suspension of Paglia’s employment and accompanying retaliatory harassment constitutes an adverse employment action by the borough, according to the October 2018 lawsuit.

Borough officials suspended Paglia’s employment and harassed her with discipline because she exercised her rights under the Law Against Discrimination to assert claims of sex discrimination against the borough, according to the lawsuit.

Her current legal action asserts that Matawan’s actions violate the Law Against Discrimination; that the borough’s conduct was willful, malicious and/or especially egregious and done with the knowledge and/or participation of upper-level management including, but not limited to Jason Gallo, the former police chief, and Ben Smith, a former police lieutenant, among others.

As a result of the borough’s alleged wrongful conduct, Paglia has suffered and continues to suffer damages including back pay and emotional distress, according to the lawsuit.

Matawan officials denied Paglia’s claims in their response to the lawsuit.

Paglia is seeking judgment against Matawan on the sole count awarding her compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, cost of suit, pre- and post-judgment interest and all other relief the court deems equitable and just, according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Paul Castronovo, who is representing Paglia, did not respond to a request for comment.

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