A federal judge last week reinstated a lawsuit he tossed out in January against the Bristol Borough and its Police Department alleging, disability discrimination, workplace harassment, and retaliation against a former police officer who was injured on the job in 2014.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of fired Bristol patrolman Justin Gross, by Marc A. Weinberg, Esq. of
Saffren & Weinberg, seeks damages in excess of $150,000 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and cites three counts of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and Pennsylvania Human Relations act.
Gross filed a civil lawsuit against the borough and its officials in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas last March, seeking $50,000 in damages for wrongful termination also.
The federal action originally filed last November, had been on hold since December when attorneys for the borough filed a motion to dismiss, based on a statute of limitations argument . Federal Judge C. Darnell Jones II initially approved the motion, but reversed course on March 11.
The suit, according to court documents, was filed several days after a 90- day period, and the holdup in receiving the right -to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was due to mail disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic on the US postal system. Justice Jones, in his decision left open the possibility for the borough to prove through discovery that the pertinent documents were mailed and received after the deadline.
“The Court agrees with plaintiff that any delays in his or his counsel’s receipt of the right -to-sue letter (if such letter was received at all) were undoubtedly due to the marked delay in mail receipt in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” The justice said.
As previously published, a little more than eight years to the day, officer Gross pursued a Bristol woman operating her vehicle under the influence, who rammed her vehicle into his police cruiser several times causing a number of physical injures and the development of behavioral health conditions. Gross returned to work in October of 2017.
After returning back to the job on desk duty Gross says he suffered “severe and pervasive disability discrimination, harassment and retaliation,…during the course and scope of his employment with BBPD.”
As exclusively reported by Lower Bucks Source in May, Gross in a disability case alleged discrimination by the Chief of Police Steve Henry and supervisors in the department, Sgt’s Peter Faight, Alan Hankinson, and colleague Detective William Davis, according to the filing.
Henry, court records allege, made derogatory comments about the use of a service dog by Gross at police headquarters, saying it would be annoying, ridiculous and thought their use was “nonsense.”
Detective Davis is accused of making degrading comments about service digs in Gross’ presence and the Chief of Police did nothing to stop the Davis from making these types of comments. Gross was prescribed the service dog in order to help him manage his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.
Due to physical injuries suffered by Gross he was prescribed a 100 pound ergonomic chair which he was forced to assemble on his own in November of 2017. Days later Henry ordered two identical chairs for employees who were not injured and had employees of the public works department assemble them.
In January of 2019, Faight and Hankinson harassed Gross by:
- Moving his chair back to his old desk, taking his personal items back to his old desk area, unplugging his Ethernet cable so Gross could not access his work computer, throwing trash on his desk, and removing and logging into the officers cell phone.
- Faight, the suit alleges, “tampered with” his “Alexa” device by accessing it and “ordering condoms.”
The complaint also says his personal locked desk drawer was broken into which contained sensitive information which was removed. The suit also alleges Henry told Gross that he was acting like a ‘f**king sixth grader’ when he reported repeated harassment by his coworkers. Henry is alleged to have said, according to the lawsuit, he could ‘harass anyone he want to,’ also.
I wish I could comment, however our legal counsel advises against it. The Bristol Borough Police will continue to focus on providing public safety to its residents and visitors,” said Chief Henry in response to a request for comment.
Weinberg writes in court documents, that Gross was targeted, intimidated and harassed, by the borough and its police officials when fully aware that he was suffering from medical and mental health disabilities, and used that information in deciding to terminate the former officer.
Gross is seeking at least $150,00.00 in damages, back pay, front pay, equitable and injunctive relief, plus costs and expenses. He was a Bristol Police Officer for approximately seven years, borough records show.
Attorney for Bristol Borough Chris Gerber, and Marc Weinberg, the officers legal representative did not respond to requests for comment by the publication.