Lawsuit Claims Female Cliffside Park Officer was Singled Out for Harsh Treatment

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
By: Matthew Van Dusen, Staff Writer
The Record

CLIFFSIDE PARK – Borough police brass looked the other way while on-duty officers watched pornography and ogled sunbathing women but punished the department’s one female officer for minor missteps, a gender discrimination lawsuit filed Wednesday claims.

Jackie Lynn Flanagan, who was fired from the force in July 2009, claims in the suit that Chief Donald Keane singled her out for harsh treatment while ignoring the shortcomings and lewd behavior of male officers.

 

“The department ran itself like a frat house,” said Flanagan’s attorney, Lydia Cotz. “The department is a disgrace.”

Borough spokesman Bill Maer, speaking on behalf of Keane and Mayor Gerald Calabrese, said officials had not yet been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark against Keane, the borough and Calabrese, claims that the chief ordered Flanagan to undergo a battery of medical tests after she got into several car accidents while on- and off-duty. This was not required of male officers who got into multiple accidents, the suit claims.

When Flanagan refused a doctor’s request to undergo an MRI, she was charged with insubordination, faced a disciplinary hearing and was fired by the borough council, the suit claims.

Her suit alleges that she was retaliated against for her complaints about her treatment, deprived of her due process rights, endured a hostile work environment and gender discrimination.

Flanagan, a 19-year veteran of the force who made $82,000 a year, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well attorney’s fees and filing costs.

The lawsuit comes as the borough council is mulling the fate of Detective Sgt. Ellis Haroldson, who faces a disciplinary charge related to his attempts to raise bail for a Fort Lee businessman who plundered body parts from cadavers.

Flanagan’s suit notes that Haroldson still could return to active duty despite the serious charges against him. Officer Michael Messenger, who was convicted of shoplifting in Clarkstown, N.Y., recently received a psychiatric retirement at 40 percent of his pay, the suit claims.

Flanagan claims that she endured years of sexual harassment by fellow officers and unfair treatment at the hands of department leaders and Calabrese.

Officers would alert each other over police radios to women who were walking down the street or sunbathing in their yards, the lawsuit states. On one occasion, a cake tin with male genitalia drawn on it in black marker was left in the officer’s break room, according to the suit.

When Flanagan complained to her superiors she was told to “roll with it,” the suit states.

“Like many women in this situation, they endure this for the sake of trying to keep a roof over their families’ heads,” Cotz said, of Flanagan.

Calabrese did not like her because she refused to contribute to his political campaigns or fix traffic tickets for his friends, the suit states.

When she slipped up, she was treated worse than her male colleagues.

Keane forced Flanagan to take a remedial course after failing her firearms qualification. By contrast, an instructor ordered Messenger off the firing range as a danger to others but he escaped discipline, the suit states.

Keane also ordered that a male officer drive her in a patrol car after her February 2009 accident, the suit states.

Her attorney wrote a letter to Keane in April 2009 claiming that his orders were discriminatory and retaliatory and she was hit with disciplinary charges several days later, according to the court filing.

Flanagan had run-ins with department leaders early in her career.

In 1997, her commanding officer learned she had not graduated from high school as she had claimed on a 1988 application. She later settled with the town and received a six-month suspension without pay.