Police Lt. sues over promotion process, alleges harassment and discrimination

Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2 | May 21, 2018 | MonroeNow

The Monroe Township Police Department spokeswoman filed a civil suit on May 14 alleging discrimination, harassment and being passed over for a promotion in favor of a candidate the suit claims is a pal of the police chief.

Lt. Lisa Robinson, a 20 year veteran of the Police Department and the patrol division commander, names the township and Police Department in her suit seeking damages for lost wages, retroactive restoration of all seniority benefits and punitive damages among other remedies including promotion to the rank of captain as of March 28.

Robinson, an African American, alleges that at the 60-member male-dominated and not racially-diverse department there is a “male-dominated inner circle of superior officers.” She claims she has been harassed based on her gender and race and that she was referred to as the “token black on the department.”

When she was hired in 1997, Robinson alleges that “several officers” refused to work with her and another female officer, which resulted in “former Chief of Police Richard Garvey to threaten disciplinary action against any of those officers refusing to do so.”

Robinson also alleges that her bid, along with two other officers, to fill the captain’s vacancy was never seriously considered when then-Capt. Chris Hayes announced his retirement in June.

In the interim, Lt. Michael Biennas was named acting captain. According to the suit, individuals named to acting positions are ultimately awarded the full-time job.

Robinson was moved into Biennas’ former role as the patrol division commander and remained as the police public information officer, a role she has held since 2014.

However, prior to her appointment as patrol commander, Robinson claims that Chief Michael Lloyd told her that she was being moved to the Emergency Medical Services Division, which operates in a separate building, to “monitor the ‘dysfunction’ that existed.” The suit notes that the EMS is a division of the township Department of Administration and Finance and not the Police Department. After Robinson raised several objections to the transfer, she was eventually told it was being put on “hold.”

In August, Robinson and female officer Leigh Ann Solomons filed paperwork intending to sue “pertaining to the promotion of Biennas to acting captain, Biennas’ de facto promotion to the permanent rank of captain …” and the other claims listed in her suit filed last week.

As a result of the notice to sue, the township changed its promotion process, creating a review panel that would interview and test candidates before making a recommendation to the mayor. The chief was not part of this new review process, according to the suit. Monroe is not a civil-service township. However, the suit claims the review panel was “subjective” and there was a “lack of objective components, such as the written examination developed by the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police Association permitted bias, discrimination, and favoritism to permeate the promotional process,” scores weren’t provided and there was no opportunity to appeal the rankings.

Though Biennas has nearly 10 more years on the Monroe force, according to state pension records, the suit claims promotions should be based on merit. It claims that Biennas did not graduate from college and that Robinson has advanced degrees served honorably in the Army and Army Reserves and has more leadership and training credits.

The lawsuit alleges that Biennas’ and Lloyd’s friendship is the reason for the promotion. Biennas’ and Lloyd attended college together and Biennas is the godfather to Lloyd’s son, according to the suit.

Biennas was officially appointed captain on March 28.

An attorney for Monroe Township, Lou Rainone, said on Friday that he was not aware if the municipality has been served and that “we don’t comment on ongoing litigation.”

Robinson’s attorney did not return a phone call for comment.