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Sayreville police chief accused of racial slur denies allegations by answering complaint in Superior Court

SAYREVILLE – A complaint from an officer in the Sayreville Police Department against the department and Police Chief John Zebrowski has been met with an answer denying that the officer was in a hostile work environment.

A complaint was filed on July 20 in New Jersey Superior Court by Thomas Tesar and his wife against the Sayreville Police Department, Zebrowski, Lt. David Erla and two unidentified individuals.

On Sept. 13, an answer to the complaint was filed in Superior Court by the defendants.

Tesar, who has been a member of the department since 2014, alleges that he has been subjected to harassment since a 2016 incident.

In the complaint, Tesar alleges that another officer told him about Zebrowski referring to him using a racial slur, but he did not hear a slur directly. Tesar, who is White, contacted Erla of Internal Affairs to investigate and report the alleged incident. However, Tesar alleges that Erla instead advised him to speak directly to Zebrowski to resolve the matter.

Tesar also alleges that Erla informed Zebrowski of the alleged slur instead of reporting it, with the complaint stating that Zebrowski allegedly spoke to Tesar directly about the incident and suggested that the slur was made by a different administrative officer.

According to the complaint, Tesar did not believe the other administrative officer made the slur, which he allegedly told Erla, but found that Erla would not help him and was disregarding his opinions.

The answer, however, denies that Zebrowski used the slur. The defendants acknowledge that Tesar called Erla, but deny that Erla advised Tesar to speak directly to Zebrowski instead of reporting the alleged incident.

According to the answer, the defendants acknowledge that Zebrowski spoke to Tesar directly about the incident to suggest that the slur was made by a different administrative officer. The defendants also acknowledge that Erla spoke to Tesar afterwards, but deny the allegation that Erla appeared to disregard his opinions.

The complaint states that Tessar decided not to pursue the matter for fear of retaliation, but cites subsequent alleged incidents that created a hostile work environment for him, which is denied by the answer.

Citing an overall negative treatment by his fellow officers since 2016, Tesar alleges that the defendants violated Conscientious Employee Protection Act for conduct that was intentional and constitutes retaliation and a hostile work environment.

Tesar also alleges that the defendants committed unlawful discrimination and retaliation against him, aided each other in the retaliation and growing the hostile work environment, negatively affected his wife, and violated his rights under the Law Against Discrimination and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.

From the court, Tesar is seeking judgment on his counts against any and all defendants for compensatory damages, including where applicable, lost wages, punitive damages, personal injury, benefits, together with interest, attorney fees, costs of suit, and any further relief.

The answer, denying these allegations, demands judgment dismissing the complaint.

In separate defenses, the answer states that if the plaintiffs suffered damages, it was caused by their own negligence and third parties not under the control of the defendants. The answer also states that the conduct of the defendants was not negligent.

“The incident which forms the basis of this litigation and which allegedly caused the injuries and damages to plaintiffs was proximately caused or contributed to by the fault of third parties, not parties to this suit,” the complaint reads. “The responsibility of these defendants and the right of plaintiffs to recover in this litigation can only be determined after the percentages of responsibility of all parties to this litigation have been determined. Accordingly, these defendants seek an adjudication of the percentage of fault of plaintiffs and each and every person whose fault contributed to this incident.”

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