Federal racial discrimination case against Egg Harbor Township dismissed

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EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – A racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Egg Harbor Township and several Township Committee members has officially concluded  more than four years after it was filed by a now retired Egg Harbor Township Police captain.

Hector Tavarez, who at the time was a lieutenant on the force, filed a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court in December 2009 alleging that the township’s failure to promote him to the rank of captain in 2007, 2008 and 2009 constituted racial discrimination. 

The suit named the township as well as committee members James “Sonny” McCullough, Stanley “Jake” Glassey, Paul Hodson, John W. Risley Jr. and John Carman as defendants.

The case was assigned to Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez, from whom the township requested a summary judgment on the matter in March 25, 2013.

A summary judgment is a pre-trial motion in which the judge weighs the evidence and issues a report. If the motion is granted, the case will not receive a trial.   

 Rodriquez issued a 26-page judgment in March 25, 2013, reviewing the case and stating that Tavarez “failed to point to some evidence, direct or circumstantial, from which a fact finder could reasonably either disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reasons or believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s action.”

 Tavarez then appealed the judgment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which on July 16 upheld Rodriguez’s decision.

“In its opinion, the district court carefully and fully explained its reasons for finding that Egg Harbor Township offered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for not promoting Tavarez in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and for finding that Tavarez failed to demonstrate that Egg Harbor Township’s proffered legitimate reasons were pretexts for discrimination,” the decision states.

“We are in complete agreement with the district court’s thoughtful analysis, and the record supports the court’s findings. Accordingly, we will affirm the district court substantially for the reasons set forth in the district court’s opinion without further elaboration.”

Tararez was seeking at least $300,000 in compensation through the case,Township Administrator Peter Miller said in a phone interview regarding the case.

 In a press release issued by the township today, July 22, McCullough said he was not surprised by the ruling.

“The township has been vindicated by their decision,” the mayor said. “I have stated from the day the lawsuit was filed that the township did not violate any laws or discriminate against now retired Capt. Tavarez.”

He stated the lawsuit has been disruptive to the operations of the police department for four years and cost taxpayers a substantial sum to defend. According to Miller, the case cost the township's insurance company about $150,000 in legal fees, of which the township will owe a $20,000 deductible. 

The township was defended by attorney Michael Barker.

Tavarez was hired in 1985 and was the sole Hispanic officer on the force at the time of his hiring, according to Rodriguez’s summary judgment. He was promoted to sergeant in 1999 and to lieutenant in 2006. He retired in June 1, 2011, just a few months after he was promoted to captain.

He now works as executive director of the Egg Harbor Township Police Athletic League.

Tavarez has yet to respond to requests for comment by this paper.

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