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Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner Sued By Current and Former Employees

for Allegedly Retaliating Against Them After They Blew the Whistle on Unequal Pay for Women and Unlawful Conduct Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 15.15.29

 

Egg Harbor Township, NJ (January 10, 2019) – Three current and former high-ranking female employees in the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office—who together have more than 70 years of experience between them—filed a lawsuit in New Jersey state court today against Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner and two male prosecutors who serve under him, Cary Shill and Mario Formica. Also named in the lawsuit as defendants are Atlantic County and the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office (“ACPO”).

The women allege that Tyner unlawfully retaliated against them after they alerted Tyner and other Atlantic County officials about, among other things, unfair pay disparities between men and women in the office, and potentially unlawful conduct on Tyner’s part related to his role as County Prosecutor.

“It is beyond ironic that Damon Tyner is sworn to uphold and enforce the laws of New Jersey and yet, as we allege in our complaint, Tyner has acted in a way that shows a clear disregard for the rule of law,” said Michelle Douglass of the Douglass Law Group, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “As we allege in the complaint, when he was challenged on equal pay issues and his own misconduct, he did everything in his power to strike back at these women, including unlawfully firing one of them.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are three veteran female employees of the ACPO.

Plaintiff Donna Fetzer has worked in the ACPO since 1995. She rose to the position of Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor before she was demoted by Tyner in 2017 to the position of Chief Assistant Prosecutor and received a corresponding pay cut.

Plaintiff Heather McManus was the highest-ranking female detective in the ACPO until her forced retirement in 2018, and had worked there since 2004. She had been an Atlantic County Lieutenant of Investigators in the ACPO since 2012. Ms. McManus was in line to be promoted to the rank of Captain until Tyner allegedly eliminated the Captain position once it became open so 2 that he could exclude Ms. McManus—the only female eligible for the position—from attaining that rank. Ms. McManus reluctantly notified Tyner in August 2018 of her pending retirement, citing her concern about his terminating her colleague and fellow plaintiff Diane Ruberton, and her concern that Tyner had allegedly threatened to terminate Ms. McManus herself.

Plaintiff Diane Ruberton worked in the ACPO from 1999 through 2018. She was fired by Tyner in June 2018—allegedly because she was committed to putting an end to the gender wage gap and other gender-related discrimination within the ACPO. Ms. Ruberton has the distinction of being the youngest person and only woman to have been appointed to the positions of First Assistant Prosecutor and Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor. Despite holding the First Assistant Prosecutor position for five years, Tyner demoted Ms. Ruberton in 2017 to Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor and promoted a male to her previous position. She received a corresponding pay cut with her demotion. Despite her sterling record, Ms. Ruberton’s request for retirement credentials was denied by Tyner. Ms. Ruberton is the first person who has retired from the ACPO to have been denied retirement credentials.

The plaintiffs’ 90-plus page legal complaint contains factual allegations against Tyner and other defendants that run the gamut from possible mortgage fraud, to unequal pay for women in the office, to conflicts of interest, to retaliation against women who brought these issues to Tyner’s attention, to the failure to actually investigate reports of gender discrimination or sexual harassment. The plaintiffs’ specific allegations include:

● When Tyner became Prosecutor, he allegedly demoted a number of high-ranking women but did not demote any high-ranking men. In addition, he allegedly permitted pay increases and raises for men but not for women;

● Under Tyner, the ACPO allegedly provided a lower starting salary to women than to men;

In March 2006, Tyner allegedly sold his home to his father-in-law for approximately 57% more than what Tyner paid for it three years earlier. Six months later, Tyner allegedly bought the home back from his father-in-law for $1. On the same day Tyner was sworn in as Atlantic County Prosecutor, he allegedly received notice that he and his wife were in default on a mortgage on their home.

● Upon realizing that Ms. McManus and Ms. Ruberton were aware of this information and were involved in reporting this information to the FBI, Tyner allegedly engaged in conduct designed to harass, embarrass, and humiliate them by refusing to include them in discussions and decisions regarding cases in the ACPO units they supervised;

 ● In early 2018, shortly after Ms. Ruberton met with Tyner and another lawyer for Atlantic County to report gender discrimination and unequal pay discrimination within the ACPO, Tyner allegedly advised a colleague that he wanted to fire Ms. Ruberton—which he ultimately did in June 2018;

● Since February 2018, Tyner has been reported by others to have allegedly threatened to fire Ms. McManus and Ms. Fetzer because they brought forth issues consistent with the public policy of New Jersey to close the gender wage gap;

● Tyner allegedly tainted a purported “investigation” into possible gender discrimination at the ACPO by a retired New Jersey state court judge by contacting witnesses before they met with the judge. This same judge was the primary reference for the individual Tyner hired as an assistant prosecutor the same day that he fired Ms. Ruberton;

● Tyner allegedly failed to investigate an allegation that a police officer was leaking confidential information regarding the investigation into a high-profile murder and allegedly failed to disclose to defense counsel this possible leaking of confidential information (which the ACPO might have legally been required to do);

● Tyner allegedly (i) fired ACPO employees so that he could hire his brother (and pay him approximately 67% more in salary than other employees in that position), (ii) gave a $20,000 raise to a friend of his brother, (iii) gave the son of a prominent attorney in Atlantic City (and a donor to one of Tyner’s political campaigns) an internship with a salary of $50,000 (despite most internships being unpaid), and (iv) promoted the daughter of his wife’s boss;

● Tyner and fellow defendant Cary Shill allegedly directed that the ACPO dismiss a criminal prosecution against an individual who had close political ties to the Atlantic City Democratic Party;

● In late 2017 and again in 2018, Tyner allegedly covered up complaints of gender discrimination and sexual harassment and did not report those complaints to the appropriate Atlantic County lawyers and legal staff;

● In 2017, Tyner allegedly refused to investigate an assistant prosecutor who allegedly exchanged text messages with a defendant and gave advice to that same defendant for a domestic violence case that was also pending;

● The three plaintiffs were at various times allegedly demoted by Tyner, denied advancement opportunities, and/or denied pay increases by Tyner allegedly in retaliation for their willingness to speak out against Tyner’s alleged wrongdoing. Regarding Ms. Fetzer specifically, Tyner allegedly said, “[She] wasn’t getting another red cent. Fuck her.” In addition, ACPO personnel were allegedly told at times not to seek guidance from the plaintiffs or to exclude the plaintiffs from communications about particular matters that concerned them; and

● Tyner and some of his male colleagues allegedly talked in a derogatory fashion about women generally, including Tyner allegedly stating that a male colleague had nothing to worry about concerning another lawyer because she was “a woman and she’s got no presence,” and that the male colleague had “it bad, he’s stuck with a woman judge too.”

“The allegations of retaliation that are rampant throughout this complaint seem to paint a picture of a fiefdom established by Damon Tyner that silenced those voices inside the ACPO who dared challenge any questionable conduct that Tyner or other-ranking officials at the ACPO engaged in,” said Philip Burnham of Burnham Law Group, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “Donna, Heather, and Diane are courageous for bringing these allegations to light and giving the people of Atlantic County an idea of the kind of leadership their taxpayer dollars appear to be paying for.”

The three plaintiffs brought this lawsuit against Tyner and the other defendants under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (for their retaliation claims) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (for their discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims).

The lawsuit, captioned Diane Ruberton, et al. v. Damon G. Tyner, et al., is docket no. ATL-L- 000057-19 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Atlantic County.

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