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New Jersey Jail Guards Awarded $1.2 Million Following Retaliation for Protesting Jail Conditions

On April 10, 2002, a federal jury in New Jersey awarded four Atlantic County Jail guards $300,000 each for retaliation taken against them after they publicly protested unsafe jail conditions.

In May, 1997, Edward Clopp, Noriss Justis, Robert Reid Murie, and Iris Quezergue, guards at the Gerard L. Gormeley Justice Center in Atlantic County, New Jersey (the jail) participated in informational pickets to alert the public to jail overcrowding, understaffing, racial and gender discrimination at the jail and the fact that the unionized guards had been working without a contract for five months. The guards, all of whom were members of and held executive positions in the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 34, also discussed jail conditions with members of the media. They were then subjected to "selective enforcement of discipline," including: suspensions, attempted job terminations, undesirable shifts, and unpopular days off despite having seniority. The guards had "clean records" up to that point and had no trouble after jail Warden Frank Mazzone left seven months later.

The guards sued Mazzone, Atlantic County, and the Atlantic County Department of Public Safety alleging their retaliation for union activity. The case was tried before a ten-member jury which heard twelve days of testimony before deliberating for five hours and awarding the plaintiffs a total of $1,200,000.

Atlantic County Counsel William Nugent said the county would file an appeal based on a disproportionate monetary award and "a number of issues that involve evidence questions." g

Sources: The Press of Atlantic City, The New York Times

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