Jury Awards Firefighters $80,000 Over NJ Town’s Mishandling of Discipline Investigation

A New Jersey jury has ordered the Town of Hammonton to pay four members of a local volunteer fire department $80,000 in damages over the town’s mishandling of a disciplinary investigation in 2015.

The firefighters, Joseph Caruso, 53,  William Tomasello, 50; John H. Warren Jr., 70, and John Michael Warren, 37, were suspended by the town and publicly humiliated in a televised council meeting and subsequent newspaper articles based on allegations of sexual harassment. The members were not given a hearing until after they and their department, the  Independent Volunteer Fire Company of Hammonton Station 2, filed suit in January of 2016. When the hearing was finally held in 2017, each member was cleared of any wrongdoing.  Meanwhile, the lawsuit continued on.

Yesterday, an Atlantic County Superior Court jury awarded the men $80,000 finding the town had violated their state constitutional rights. The jury refused to award the firefighters punitive damages.

Quoting from a press release issued by the fire company:

  • The leadership of the fire company fully cooperated with the Town of Hammonton including Mayor Di Donato, Solicitors Brian Howell and Michael Malinsky during what they as well as the courts considered a questionable three-year investigation. We have continuously espoused that the truth will be brought to light and that we would stand alongside our members, many of whom have over twenty-five years of service to the community.
  • We believe that respectful and professional conduct furthers our organizations mission. We expect every member to show respect for each other and the community which they serve. The fire company is committed to providing an environment that is free of discrimination, including harassment.
  • We have continuously ensured that the safety of the residents of Hammonton has not been affected by the situation. The fire company and its active membership which is at a longtime high of 37 members will continue to serve the residents of Hammonton as they have been since 1896.
  • We are optimistic that the fire company will become stronger after this long-awaited ruling and the Town of Hammonton will reconsider the manner which they support their dedicated volunteers.

Here is a copy of the press release: HammontonPressRelease

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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