Monday, July 4, 2016

Former employee's lawsuit against City is still pending despite guilty finding.

On October 1, 2014, an Air Force Reservist who worked as a senior clerk typist for the City of Salem Police Department (Salem County) filed a racial discrimination and false arrest lawsuit against the City, the Salem County Prosecutor's Office, Salem Police Chief John Pelura and other City and County employees.  On February 6, 2015, the same employee was found guilty of publicly releasing confidential Division of Youth and Family Service (DYFS) records in an alleged attempt to derail the mayoral campaign of Charles Washington.  Despite the criminal finding and the fact that the employee was sentenced to one year probation, her lawsuit is still pending.  Update 07/07/16: I learned from Gross' attorney that her conviction is under appeal.

According to her lawsuit, Terri Gross was suspended from her senior clerk typist position on November 28, 2012 because Chief Pelura, along with Brian Facemeyer and David Cornman of the Salem County Prosecutor's Office, cooked up a false story that she had unlawfully released the DYFS records to Washington's detriment--the very charge of which she convicted on February 6, 2015.  (According to a May 13, 2014 news article, the Washington named in the DYFS documents was not the mayoral candidate.) She also claims that Pelura, Facemeyer, Cornman, and Frederick Parkell conspired to falsely arrest her. 

Her suit also alleges that Chief Pelura, well prior to her suspension, harassed her for taking time off from work for Reserve service despite her compliance with a City policy on military leave.  According to the suit, Pelura "falsely reported to Salem City Council that [Gross] was abusing military leave" and allegedly told his staff that "he was going to put a stop to [it]."  Gross said that in 2010 she complained to then Mayor Robert Davis who told Pelura to stop harassing Gross about her military leave.

Gross claims that in retaliation for reporting him to the mayor, "Pelura begin circulating false information . . . that [Gross] did not live in the City; began conducting surveillance of [Gross] after she left work; solicited [defendant] Anthony Vanaman to surveil [Gross'] activities at work; solicited Sharon Vanaman, Dominique Callahan and others to follow [Gross] after she left work; increased his conversations with staff telling them that [Gross] was not performing her duties because she was taking too much time off for military duty [and] conducting staff meetings without including [Gross]."  She also claimed that Pelura "had a microphone installed in the vent of [Gross'] room to monitor [her] conversations [and] used an internal security camera to monitor [Gross] while she was in her room."

Gross also claims that Pelura worked to have Gross, who is African-American, replaced by Sharon Vanaman who is white and who is also named in the suit.  The suit claimed that Pelura and Sharon Vanaman openly referred to her as a "black bitch" and an "old black n***er." and Sharon Vanaman said "I hate that bitch and her in that f**ing military, I'm going to fix that n***er."  Vanaman allegedly took over Gross' position after she was suspended.

Finally, Gross' lawsuit claims that Dominique Callahan, who is white, was paid more than Gross even though she had less job responsibility.

The lawsuit was scheduled for trial on early June 13, 2016.  But that trial was cancelled, apparently because Gross' lawyer, Roland G. Hardy, Jr. of Pitman, was disbarred on May 3, 2016. Gross' new attorney is Christian A. Pemberton of Sicklerville.