Former Orange mayor loses appeal over police wage discrimination claims in West Orange

By Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on December 15, 2014

Eldridge Hawkins Jr., the former mayor of Orange, has lost an appeal in his long-running legal battle with West Orange officials over his tenure as a township cop.

 

WEST ORANGE — A state appeals court has rejected discrimination claims by former Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins Jr. that he was unfairly paid less than two fellow West Orange police officers.

Hawkins, who lost a bid last month to become the mayor of West Orange, had asserted Officers William K. Sayers and Brad Squires received special treatment, because they are white and of Irish descent.

But in a decision issued on Thursday, the appellate panel upheld a lower court’s ruling to dismiss those claims after finding Hawkins had failed to show pay increases for the two officers were the result of unlawful discrimination.

“The record indicates that plaintiff, although the only African-American hired during the relevant time period, was treated similarly to the other officers in his same position and who performed the same work,” according to the appellate decision.

“Plaintiff failed to establish that other officers in the class that was allegedly shown preferential treatment, were actually given such treatment.”

Sayers is also the nephew of former Police Director John Sayers. The appeals court found “there was arguably evidence of nepotism,” but said that would not establish a discrimination claim.

Those discimination claims are part of a long-running legal battle between Hawkins and West Orange officials over his tenure as a township cop. Hawkins, who was hired in July 2004, retired from the department in March 2011.

Hawkins, who has said he lived in Orange from 2005 to 2012, was elected mayor there in May 2008. After losing his reelection bid in May 2012, Hawkins moved back to West Orange in December 2012.

Last month, Hawkins lost his bid to unseat West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi, who was reelected to a second term. Hawkins came in third in the four-candidate race.

His discrimination lawsuit deals in large part with the collective bargaining agreement that determined when newly hired officers receive their first pay increases.

When Hawkins and other officers were hired in 2004, that agreement allowed officers hired before July 10 to receive the pay increase in the following January, court papers say.

As a result, Sayers and Squires, both of whom were hired before July 10, received the pay increase in January 2005, whereas Hawkins and three officers hired after that date, received the pay increase in January 2006, according to the appellate decision.

Hawkins has claimed township officials discriminated against him and the three other officers, because they were not white, Irish males, according to Hawkins’ father, Eldridge Hawkins Sr., an attorney and former state assemblyman who represented his son in the appellate matter.

Those three other officers include two white Italian men and a white woman, the father said. Hawkins is African-American.

“They did what they did to those whom everybody considered Irish and, again, the people that ran the show were Irish,” Eldridge Hawkins Sr. said.

Referring to Sayers and Squires, the father said “there’s no question that they were given special treatment.”

The father said he planned to request the Appellate Division to reconsider its decision.

But Richard D. Trenk, an attorney representing the township, rejected the allegations that Sayers and Squires received preferential treatment.

“There was absolutely no preferential treatment given to any police personnel,” Trenk said in an email. “The Township is pleased that the latest Hawkins claim, like all other Hawkins’ claims, has been denied.”

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