Fired police officer files discrimination suit in Bergen County

City Hall Palisades Park, NJ
City Hall Palisades Park, NJ

Palisades Park officials deny anti-gay bias

A police officer fired last year after lodging complaints against a councilman has filed a suit against the borough of Palisades Park, NJ. Robert DeVito, Jr. also named Police Chief Mark Jackson, Councilman Henry Ruh, and former Mayor James Rotundo in his suit, claiming discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination.

DeVito was hired as a probationary police officer in 2017. During his tenure with the police department, DeVito claimed he had witnessed discriminatory and homophobic behavior from Jackson and Ruh. He said he reported this ant-gay behavior to supervisors and town administrators. The lawsuit cites different times where DeVito said he felt that he was being targeted for either his sexual orientation or political affiliations within the borough. After publicly supporting Rotundo’s challenger during a mayoral race, Rotundo’s wife allegedly told DeVito, “wait to see what happens to you.” Other town employees who supported Rotundo’s opposition were told their jobs were under review says the lawsuit.

In another instance involving Ruh, the lawsuit alleges that the councilman made derogatory and homophobic comments about a school trustee in DeVito’s presence. Ruh then looked at DeVito and “corrected” himself, changing the slur initially used to “pedophile.” DeVito reported the incident to the town administrator for the purpose of pursuing a complaint against Ruh. He stated that he had video showing the councilman committing official misconduct.

When DeVito expressed concerns to the chief that his job as a police officer was being threatened and his complaints were going straight to the mayor and the town council, Jackson filed an internal affairs complaint against him. Shortly thereafter Ruh filed another, claiming harassment.

DeVito was fired before his probationary year was up. Jackson and the town council cited the internal affairs investigations. DeVito went back to his former position as communications manager for the borough. There he claims he is still subject to harassment and discrimination. DeVito’s partner, Corey Havens, who lost his job as a information technology employee with the borough, has also filed notice against Palisades Park. Havens said in his lawsuit that his firing came as retaliation against DeVito rather than the cited budgetary concerns.

“Being a police officer was his lifelong dream and he worked very hard to get there,” DeVito’s attorney Matthew Priore said. “He was an exemplary officer during his time there. The only reason he was terminated was for his exposure of misconduct of a councilman.”

DeVito is looking to be reinstated as a police office, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief in the six-count lawsuit.