Tentative settlement reached in Princeton police officers’ lawsuit

David Dudeck

The municipality of Princeton has reached a tentative settlement with seven police officers who sued the town. The officers alleged that they were harassed by a former police chief . The settlement avoids a potentially lengthy and costly trial.

The governing body for the municipality still must approve the agreement, and is expected to do so during the public session of the Princeton Council next Monday night.

Sharon Papp, Carol Raymond, Steven Riccitello, Daniel Chitren, Christopher Donnelly, Michael Bender, and Christopher Quaste were the plaintiffs in the joint lawsuit filed in Mercer County Superior Court back in 2013. Only Donnelly and Chitren are still officers in Princeton. The other five officers have retired over the course of the five and a half years since the lawsuit was filed.

The officers alleged that David Dudeck, the former chief of Princeton Borough and the first chief of the consolidated Princeton, engaged in a continuing pattern of gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, disability discrimination and harassment that was abusive and created a hostile work environment.

Matthew Peluso, the lawyer for all seven police officers who were the plaintiffs, said the case took so long to resolve because the town wanted to litigate the case. The case was scheduled to go to trial yesterday. The town then decided to engage in settlement negotiations and the case was resolved, he said.

“Given the values of the settlement, my clients feel completely vindicated in the case,” Peluso said of the settlement agreement.

Legal settlements involving municipalities are public records in New Jersey. Peluso did not disclose the dollar amounts his seven clients won in the settlements, because the Princeton Council has not voted yet to approve the settlement agreements.

The lawsuit against the town and Dudeck was filed four months after the Princeton Council and Dudeck entered into a separation agreement that allowed him to retire. As part of the agreement, the police union withdrew allegations its members made against Dudeck, and the Mercer County Prosecutor agreed not to investigate charges previously made by the union. Under the agreement, both Dudeck and the town were barred form any future litigation regarding his employment, and Dudeck was forbidden from discussing the agreement.

At the time the settlement was made, the mayor and some council members praised the agreement, saying it would protect everyone from future legal liability and that the police department could “begin a new chapter.” But town officials never obtained individual agreements from the officers involved.