Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Age-Bias Trial under Way

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Age-Bias Trial under Way

Article excerpt

Six highly experienced investigators with the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office were victims of age discrimination in 2008 when then-Prosecutor James Avigliano forced them to retire, an attorney asserted in state court on Tuesday.

"There's an old expression: It's called paying your dues," attorney Matthew Peluso of Princeton told jurors on behalf of the six officers suing Avigliano and Passaic County for lost wages. "You have to start at the bottom. You've got to work your way up. You have to put your time in. You have to be good at what you do. And if you do all that, you will be rewarded."

Not in this case, he said. "When they get into their late 40s and early 50s, what happens? Mr. Avigliano terminates them," Peluso said during opening statements in the trial, noting that his clients have a total of 150 years in law enforcement among them.

Avigliano kept younger officers instead because they had key political connections at a time when he was in a losing battle for reappointment, Peluso said. Camelia M. Valdes would ultimately succeed him as the county's top law enforcement officer.

Attorney Peter Berk of Newark, representing Avigliano and Passaic County, maintained that the prosecutor was forced by the county to cut $2.7 million from his $18 million budget. In all, more than 30 positions were eliminated in the 222-member department of lawyers, clerks and investigators, he said.

"When you come right down to it, it had nothing to do with age," Berk told the jury. "Prosecutor Avigliano had to make a hard choice - - a choice he didn't want to make. He asked these guys to retire. They had a nice benefits package."

Laying off longtime employees, with medical benefits and pensions, meant "fewer employees who would have to be let go, and they'd have a safe landing," Berk said.

"They're saying more people should have been laid off, instead of them. …

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