Female lieutenant claims North Brunswick Police Department intentionally blocked her promotion due to gender discrimination

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NORTH BRUNSWICK – A female police lieutenant whose eligibility for a promotion to captain expires next month is requesting a trial by jury based on accusations she was passed over by the North Brunswick Police Department (NBPD) because of her gender.

Lt. Gina Braconi alleges in a civil suit dated on Feb. 21 in state Superior Court, Middlesex County, that the defendants, the Township of North Brunswick and the NBPD, are intentionally and maliciously refusing to promote her until her eligibility expires, according to the suit filed by Paul C. Jensen Jr. of the Folkman Law Offices in Cherry Hill.

Braconi is a township resident who graduated from North Brunswick Township High School and earned a bachelor’s degree, with honors, from Caldwell College, and a master’s degree, with honors, from Seton Hall University, according to the document.

She has been employed by the NBPD since January 1995. She began her law enforcement career with stints as a patrol officer, Juvenile Bureau detective and School Resource Officer.

Braconi was promoted to sergeant in 2005 and as sergeant became Officer-in-Charge of the police department’s Training Bureau. In 2008, she was transferred to Officer-in-Charge of the Traffic Safety Bureau.

In 2012, she was promoted to lieutenant, where she served as Officer-in-Charge of Traffic Safety and as a backup investigator of the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

In 2015, Braconi was transferred to the Patrol Division as watch commander in charge of Squad 4 while continuing as backup investigator in Internal Affairs. In 2015, she was then transferred to Officer-in-Charge of Internal Affairs and is presently the Officer-in-Charge of the police department’s Office of Professional Standards, according to the lawsuit.

Beginning in 2017, in addition to her regular job duties, Braconi served as the police department’s project manager in its attempt to receive accreditation under the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police Law Enforcement Accreditation Program. As a result of Braconi’s commitment and diligence, the police department received accreditation around Oct. 17, 2018, according to the lawsuit.

Around 2015, Braconi applied for and underwent testing for the title of police captain through the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Around April 2016, Braconi was advised she had passed the examination and was eligible for promotion to captain, the eligibility of which was to expire around April 2019, according to the lawsuit.

Upon information and belief, of the three lieutenants from the police department who took the captain’s examination, only two candidates passed: Braconi and Lt. Cory Harris, who is a male.

By letter dated April 29, 2016, Braconi expressed her interest in being promoted to Robert Lombard, the township’s business administrator at the time, according to the lawsuit. At the time the test results were released, the police department had multiple openings for the captain position. Following the release of the test results, Harris was promoted to captain.

Around Oct. 23, 2017, Braconi met with Police Director Kenneth McCormick to discuss the possibility of her promotion, according to the lawsuit.

Around Feb. 14, 2018, Braconi inquired when they could meet to “finish discussing [her] promotion,” according to the document. To date, neither the police department nor the township have taken any action to promote Braconi, despite there being openings for the captain’s rank within the police department.

As of the current date, of the 84 officers in the police department, five are female. There are no female captains and Braconi is the only female lieutenant.

On Feb. 8, 2019, township officials approved the promotion of two male officers to the rank of sergeant and lieutenant, again demonstrating what Braconi called the preference for males and again passing over her for a promotion to captain, according to the lawsuit.

Braconi claims she has been made to endure harassing and demeaning conduct on account of her gender. By way of example, despite her exemplary leadership in the role of Officer-in-Charge of the Traffic Safety Bureau, she was transferred out and replaced by Lt. John Haas, whom she claims lacked the requisite experience to operate in the position. She says she later learned the proffered reason for this change was that the position “was a man’s job,” according to the lawsuit.

In addition, Braconi said she has been made to endure harassing and demeaning comments from her superiors, while male officers have not been subjected to the same treatment. She calls it a de facto “boys’ club” atmosphere in the statement.

Braconi’s brothers, Louis Jr. and Paul, are both retired from the NBPD.

Braconi’s lawsuit follows one filed by Officer Michael Campbell, an African American who said that when he came to the police department in 2002 it was “immediately clear” he was not welcome because of the color of his skin, according to a lawsuit he filed against the police department on Dec. 20.

Campbell alleges in the lawsuit he heard many off-color jokes, clearly intended to intimidate and alienate him, while simultaneously serving to cement the relationships of those who expressed racial bigotry and separatism.

He specifically named McCormick, Deputy Police Chief Joseph Battaglia, Lt. William Bonura and Harris for their alleged unlawful harassment and for the hostile work environment created by his superior officers.

Captain Brian Hoiberg, the public information officer for the NBPD, said police officials cannot speak about litigation.

Kathryn Monzo, the business administrator for the township, said township officials cannot comment on ongoing litigation, and that no other complaints have been received at this time.