What to Know
- In a lawsuit, two former and one current Atlantic Prosecutor's Office employee accuse prosecutor Damon G. Tyner of gender discrimination.
- The suit claims Tyner created a "toxic" culture in which he favored men over women.
- Tyner is also accused of covering up at least one sexual harassment complaint against a male prosecutor in his office.
Two former female employees and one current female staffer at the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office in New Jersey have filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and retaliation after they complained about pay disparities between men and women in the office.
Former Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton, former Investigators Lt. Heather McManus and Assistant Prosecutor Donna Fetzer allege the prosecutor, Damon G. Tyner, demoted various high-ranking women in the office, blocked promotions for women, and paid them less than their male counterparts.
The suit also claims that since he was appointed prosecutor in March 2017, Tyner and "the men who serve under him" created a "toxic" culture in the prosecutor's office.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
"Among other things, this culture favored men over women, turned a blind eye to instances and reports of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and permitted retaliation against anyone who dared question this culture and/or the perceived unlawful activities" of Tyner, the suit says.
In response to the filing, Tyner issued a statement saying, "It is apparent that the plaintiffs are living in an alternative universe. The very same conduct they accuse me and the members of my administration of committing was actually carried out by them and others during their brief, ineffective period of leadership of the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office."
According to the lawsuit, Tyner demoted Ruberton from her post as first assistant prosecutor and replaced her with a less qualified man in March 2017. In June of the following year, Tyner fired her after she filed a 23-page memo to a judge investigating gender discrimination in the prosecutor's office.
That investigation was never properly completed and was "not free from bias and taint," the lawsuit says.
Ruberton's firing caused Fetzer and McManus to be "intimidated and fearful of termination from their own jobs," the lawsuit says, discouraging them from talking to the judge about alleged workplace discrimination.
Other women were also discouraged from participating in the judge's investigation because interviews with the judge were often done with Tyner's "knowledge and participation," the prosecutor at one point personally interrupting an interview with one employee, the suit says.
According to the lawsuit, Tyner blocked McManus, then Atlantic County Lieutenant of Investigators, from rising to the rank of captain by eliminating the position when it became open.
However, after McManus was forced to retire and denied retirement credentials for expressing concern over Ruberton's firing, Tyner went ahead and hired a man to fill the captain's post, the lawsuit says.
Other alleged bad behavior includes covering up a sexual harassment complaint made by a female attorney against a male prosecutor in May of last year.
In addition, the court filing accuses Tyner of mortgage fraud and of nepotism when he fired two Agents of the Prosecutor so he could hire his brother for the job, paying him $50,000 compared to the $30,000 agents are normally paid.
Tyner also created a paid internship position with a starting salary of $50,000 so he could give it to the son of a prominent donor to his election campaigns, as well as gave a pay raise to a relative of his wife's boss, the court filing says.
Fetzer is still working in the office, but was demoted as deputy first assistant prosecutor and received a consequent pay cut of more than $22,000, the lawsuit says. She "lives in fear that her employment will be ended by Tyner."
In addition to compensatory damages for financial losses, the plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for "emotional stress, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, powerlessness and indignity."