Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ex-Cop Files Suit against Officers

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ex-Cop Files Suit against Officers

Article excerpt

ELMWOOD PARK — A federal lawsuit claiming a former borough police officer was sexually harassed and discriminated against by the police chief and other officers is now in its pretrial phase, and could be heard by a jury next year, according to the plaintiff's attorney.

But an attorney representing the borough — which has been named as a defendant alongside Michael Foligno, the borough police chief, Officer Michael Ingrasselino, Sgt. Andrew Draing, Lt. John Harris and Capt. Marc D'Amore — said the lawsuit was former officer Francesca Rodriguez's way of staving off the official misconduct charges that eventually led to her December firing.

Rodriguez filed the eight-count lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Newark last October. In it, she outlines five years' worth of sexual harassment and retaliation by her bosses and colleagues, who allegedly discriminated against her because of her sex.

The trouble started shortly after Rodriguez joined the Elmwood Park department in 2012, after spending about seven years with the Paterson police, the suit says.

"This discrimination and harassment is due to a policy or custom of the department, created and fostered by Chief Foligno," the suit reads. "Due to the outwardly discriminatory employment conditions imposed by Chief Foligno, officers were and are permitted to harass and/or discriminate against Plaintiff with impunity and without fear of punishment."

Mark Frost, Rodriguez's lawyer, said the department was "like an all-boys club."

"The officers engaged in this activity because the chief condoned what was going on," Frost said. "He created an atmosphere where officers believed they could do whatever they wanted to do as it relates to her."

But Arthur Thibault, the borough's special labor counsel, said most of Rodriguez's allegations were investigated and found to be false. He said Rodriguez sued Elmwood Park because she knew she was going to be fired over misconduct charges, which he declined to detail.

"She knew that was coming — there's just no way around that," said Thibault, who is representing the borough in Rodriguez's civil service appeal.

Rodriguez, who served with the borough police for five years, is seeking an unspecified amount in punitive and compensatory damages, as well as attorney's fees.

The discovery process, during which attorneys exchange relevant information about the case, will be open through the end of October, according to court papers.

The defendants denied the charges in detailed responses filed with the court.

"We will be aggressively defending the borough in this matter," said Christopher Botta, the Ramsey attorney representing every defendant except Ingrasselino.

Neither Ingrasselino nor his attorney, Ian C. Doris, responded to requests for comment. Foligno declined to comment. The other defendants did not respond to requests for comment. …

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