SAYREVILLE – An attorney has been appointed by the Sayreville Borough Council to investigate a complaint that alleges a hostile work environment for a police officer after he reported Police Chief John Zebrowski for allegedly using a racial slur.
During a recent meeting, council members passed a resolution appointing attorney Michael Dee to investigate the allegations in a complaint filed by Thomas Tesar and his wife in New Jersey Superior Court in July. The complaint was filed against the Sayreville Police Department, Zebrowski, Lt. David Erla and two unidentified individuals.
Dee will receive an amount not to exceed $12,000 for his services, according to the resolution.
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 complaint was met with an answer that 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 Tesar 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.
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.