| Bridgewater Courier News
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MONROE – The township through its insurance carrier has settled a discrimination lawsuit filed by a Black female police officer who claimed she was passed over for promotions because of her gender and race.
Lisa Robinson was a lieutenant in the department when she filed the lawsuit in May 2018 alleging that she was illegally passed over for a promotion to captain and that several officers had referred to her as the “token Black of the department.”
However, in September 2019, she was promoted to captain, according to a post on the township’s Facebook page.
Robinson agreed last month to an out-of-court settlement of $75,000, which was made public through the website Transparency NJ. The settlement came with no admission of guilt or liability by Monroe or its police department.
Monroe Township officials declined to comment on personnel matters.
A Nov. 16 trial in Superior Court had been scheduled, but court-ordered mediation led to the settlement.
Robinson, who lives in Monroe, earns a salary of $178,801, according to public records.
She was hired by the township police department in January 1997.
She was first assigned to the criminal investigations division as a detective in 1999 before being promoted to sergeant in 2005.
When she was hired, she was the only African American in the department, according to her lawsuit. A township employee informed her that several officers referred to her as the “token Black of the department,” according to the suit.
Before joining the police department, Robinson was honorably discharged as from the U.S. Army. She graduated from Rutgers University in 1999, and in 2014 received her master’s degree in Administrative Science and Certificate in Law and Public Safety Administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
After Robinson was hired, the next female officer was hired in 2001, according to her lawsuit.
The department did not hire another female officer for 16 years with the exception of one officer, who left the academy after her first day in 2001, according to her lawsuit.
Although there were many female applicants applying for a position with the “male-dominated” department, the 15 to 20 officers hired from 2014 to 2018, when Robinson filed her lawsuit, were all men, according to the suit.
In December 2014, Robinson was promoted to lieutenant.
In June 2017, former Captain Christian Hays announced that he was planning to go on terminal leave with a November 2017 retirement date.
Hays’ retirement created a vacancy at the rank of captain. Four lieutenants were eligible to “participate” in the promotional process, including Robinson and Leigh Ann Solomons, Michael Biennas and Jason Grosser, according her lawsuit.
With Hays’ retirement pending, former Chief Michael Lloyd told Robinson that he was transferring her to the township Division of Ambulance Services to monitor the “dysfunction” that existed within the division, according to her lawsuit.
Robinson’s desk, computer and telephone were to be moved out of the police department and into a separate EMS building, according to her lawsuit.
Robinson claimed the transfer was “clearly an attempt” to place her out of consideration for the captain promotion and to adversely impact her career. She expressed her concerns to Lloyd about the harm the transfer would cause to her career, according to her lawsuit.
On July 5, 2017, Lloyd announced that he was filling Hays’ position by appointing Michael Biennas — who later became chief — as acting captain in July 2017.
At that time, Lloyd advised Robinson that she would assume Biennas’ responsibilities as the patrol division commander while continuing to serve as public information officer, according to her lawsuit. She was ultimately not transferred to the EMS division.
Previously, the department had always promoted individuals serving in acting positions to the permanent rank once it officially became available for promotions, according to her lawsuit.
When Robinson was moved into Biennas’ former office as patrol division commander, she found a hand-written depiction of a hand with a middle finger raised pointed in her direction that read, “To: You From: Me,” according to her lawsuit.
In a memo dated March 28, 2018, township officials announced that Biennas had been promoted to captain.
Robinson alleged in her lawsuit that Biennas’ promotion was illegal because the promotion did not follow municipal guidelines of merit and qualifications.
She also claimed she was subjected to discrimination and the victim of retaliation.
Nick Muscavage is a watchdog reporter for the Courier News, Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com. To get unlimited access to his investigative work that has exposed wrongdoing and changed state law, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.