Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Haledon's Top Cop Faces Trial in Lawsuit

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Haledon's Top Cop Faces Trial in Lawsuit

Article excerpt

A former Haledon councilwoman's sexual harassment suit against the police chief and the borough will proceed to a jury trial, a judge ruled Friday, saying a reasonable person could conclude that she was subjected to a hostile work environment.

The borough of Haledon filed a motion for summary dismissal, arguing there was not enough evidence for a jury to even consider former Councilwoman Heather Kilminster's claims against Police Chief Louis Mercuro.

The suit alleges that from 2002 to 2009, while Kilminster was on the council, Mercuro made vulgar and derogatory remarks about her in public, asked about her sex life and said he wanted to have sex with her.

Kilminster reported the incidents to Mayor Domenick Stampone, Borough Clerk Allan Susen, Borough Attorney Andrew Oddo and other council members, the suit states, but received no response.

"One could conclude the borough acted in a reckless manner. I'm not saying it did. But one could reasonably conclude there was indifference to her complaints and a failure to respond," state Superior Court Judge Randal C. Chiocca in Paterson said on Friday.

"These were not isolated instances. The conduct took place on a regular basis. There is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the chief's conduct was severe and pervasive," Chiocca said, basing his findings on attorneys' briefs, evidence and deposition testimony.

The borough maintains that Mercuro was suspended after outrageous behavior at a June 9, 2009, council meeting, showing that there was a policy in place to address and penalize improper behavior. Attorneys for the borough also maintain that despite Kilminster's claims that she never wanted Mercuro as chief, she voted for his appointment, voted to give him raises and even tried to get him back on the job after he was suspended.

"All of her actions show she was not impacted by his behavior," argued lawyer Chris Botta of Ramsey. Botta argued that as a member of the governing body, she had the power to help correct the problem herself. "She was not an intern or a secretary, who had no influence over what's going on," the lawyer said.

Kilminster's attorney, Charles Sciarra of Clifton, enumerated various graphic remarks Mercuro allegedly made in front of many people. …

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