HOBOKEN RACISM SUIT. Claims abuse began after scandal over SWAT team


Claims abuse began after scandal over SWAT team

Saturday, October 04, 2008 Jersey Journal

HOBOKEN - The city's deputy director of emergency management has filed a lawsuit accusing Public Safety Director Bill Bergin of discriminating against him because he is Hispanic.

Both Bergin and Mayor David Roberts are named in the suit, filed this week by Joel Mestre, who alleges that Bergin called him derogatory names and gave away his job duties to whites.

Mestre also claims in the suit that Bergin once said to him: "Just because I don't eat rice and beans and don't agree that they should be sold at every store, that doesn't make me a racist."

Bergin called Mestre's accusations "lies."

"Anyone who knows me knows that these allegations are lies, and like all lies, in time they will be exposed for what they are," Bergin said in a prepared statement released Thursday.

"This is nothing more than a repugnant attempt to get money from the taxpayers of Hoboken. I have proudly served the people of the city of Hoboken first as a firefighter for over 30 years and now as public safety director. During that entire time I have worked hand-in-hand with and for people of many different races and ethnicities and have never been accused of anything so offensive and outrageous as the charges contained in this lawsuit."

Mestre, who is currently on sick leave, worked as a city zoning officer and then was moved to the Office of Emergency Management. When Roberts appointed Bergin to be public safety director in the wake of a scandal involving the city's SWAT team, OEM came under Bergin's supervision.

In the suit, Mestre says the racist attacks began after he testified on behalf of five Hispanic cops who sued the city and the police department for discrimination in October 2007. That suit is still pending; the attorney, Luis Zayas, is also representing Mestre.

"Director Bergin's discriminatory views of Hispanics was allowed to foster a hostile work environment," according to Mestre's suit.

The lawsuit says that over the summer, Roberts and Bergin took away his duties as taxi and limousine inspector and gave them to a white employee. Mestre said he was also stripped of his job as park and tax inspector, which Roberts also gave to a white employee.

Mestre also claims Bergin padlocked his office and took away Mestre's city-issued car.

Roberts said the racism allegations in the lawsuit are "categorically untrue."

"The city of Hoboken intends to vigorously defend itself against this lawsuit which on its face appears frivolous to the extreme," said Hoboken Corporation Counsel Steve Kleinman in a statement.

The suit does not specify how much money Mestre is seeking.

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