Police Officer in Medford, N.J., Files Racial Discrimination Suit

Mark Hunsinger says he was repeatedly passed over for promotions, denied training and subjected to racial slurs.

The only African-American officer on the Medford Township, N.J., police force is suing his employer and the township, alleging a pattern of racial discrimination in promotion, a hostile work environment and retaliation for testimony he gave during an internal investigation of his immediate supervisor, among other charges.

Officer Mark Hunsinger filed his lawsuit in Burlington County Court on October 10th. At a midday news conference December 7th, Walter L. Hudson Sr., founder and chairman of the National Awareness Alliance, NAACP New Jersey State President Richard Smith and Doug Long, the attorney representing Hunsinger, called on township officials to take action to rectify the alleged wrongdoing.

“Long reached out to me because of my advocacy work in an attempt to resolve the matter,” Hudson said. Hudson’s initial attempt to reach an amicable resolution took the form of a letter to Medford Mayor Charles Watson in August. “I sent them the letter as a way of extending an olive branch, but they declined to meet with me in order to deal with the issue,” he said.

Hence the lawsuit (below), which contains four charges against the department: Creating a hostile work environment, racial discrimination, differential treatment based on race, and retaliation, all based on New Jersey’s state anti-discrimination law.

The suit states that Hunsinger has been a member of the Medford police force since 1999 and that the two other African-American officers on the force were both let go after a very short time (less than two years in the case of the next-longest-serving officer). The lawsuit then states that Hunsinger had made more than 50 requests for training routinely provided other officers in the department but had all of them denied.  It then lists in detail a pattern of discriminatory actions stretching back to 2004, when Hunsinger was one of six officers promoted, to the rank of corporal, when openings for superior officers were posted; at the time, Hunsinger was informed that his promotion was not permanent and would be rescinded if he made any mistake. He was demoted after the department was informed of a noise complaint against him after a wedding party he attended out of town; the suit states that other officers who received similar complaints were not disciplined in this fashion and that he had never received a formal performance review prior to the demotion.

The lawsuit also states that repeated requests to join the police SWAT team, for which he had passed the qualifying physical test, were rebuffed while every other officer who passed the physical was accepted; in addition, several promotions for which he would be first in line based on seniority were given to less senior officers instead.

The suit also describes several incidents in which Hunsinger’s immediate supervisor used racially derogatory language or circulated materials denigrating African-Americans, Italian-Americans and Asian-Americans to other officers; the suit alleges that some of the actions taken against him were in retaliation for his giving testimony in a 2008 internal investigation of that same supervisor.

This is the second time that Hunsinger, a former president of the Medford Township Police Officers Association, has filed this lawsuit. He withdrew an earlier suit filed in Burlington Count Superior Court in the fall of 2014 out of dissatisfaction with the quality of his legal counsel; he has since hired a new attorney who has re-filed the suit.

“It’s unacceptable to me and to Mr. Hunsinger that he had to hear white officers using racial epithets, that every officer who he had seniority over got promoted while he’s still where he’s at — and there were other officers who had more severe disciplinary problems than he had who got promoted. The mayor has to be accountable for what’s happening in his police department.”

Hudson still holds out hope that he, Hunsinger and Long may be able to meet with township officials to reach an amicable resolution of the problems without going to trial. “Otherwise, we will let this work through the court process, and we will hold some demonstrations to let Medford know that this is not right.

“An officer’s work is strenuous enough during the day,” Husdson said. “He shouldn’t have to fight two battles, one to serve and protect the community and the other to deal with a hostile work environment.”

Hunsinger is suing for lost wages, benefits, insurance, pension and other benefits he’d have received had he been promoted, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Medford Township officials contacted for this story declined to comment on the press conference, saying they were not made aware of it, and could not comment on the lawsuit.

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