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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Three women have filed a lawsuit against multiple individuals, including Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner, claiming they created a “toxic culture for women” within the prosecutor’s office.
In a 96-page lawsuit obtained by CBS Philly, two former employees of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, Diane Ruberton and Heather McManus, and one current employee, Donna Fetzer, claim that Tyner allegedly violated New Jersey law by creating a culture that favored men over women, turned a blind eye to instances and reports of sexual harassment and gender discrimination and permitted retaliation against anyone who dared question this culture or other questionable conduct within the office.
During one instance, Ruberton claims she was unlawfully fired after she turned over a 23-page memo detailing concerns regarding gender discrimination within the office.
The memo was turned over to a judge the week of June 28, 2018. Ruberton was fired the same week.
The lawsuit claims Tyner unlawfully retaliated against Ruberton by firing her and instilled fear and intimidation against McManus and Fetzer.
A judge did find no gender discrimination but lawyers representing the women say witnesses were fearful to admit gender inequity and Tyner allegedly tainted the investigation process.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner Accused Of Mortgage Fraud, Ethics Violations In Kauffman Murder Case
McManus and Fetzer also allege that Tyner threatened to fire them due to their association with Ruberton. McManus later retired on Aug. 20, 2018, because “she was concerned about the termination of Ruberton and the fact she had learned that [Tyner] threatened to terminate her.”
Lawyers say Fetzer, who still works for Tyner, “lives in fear that her employment will be ended by Tyner.”
ALLEGED MORTGAGE FRAUD
The lawsuit also alleges Tyner committed mortgage fraud.
A previous letter sent to the New Jersey attorney general by the three women asking for an investigation states that Tyner and his wife purchased a home in Egg Harbor Township for $275,000. In March of 2006, Tyner’s father-in-law purchased the home for $425,000. The home was then allegedly sold back to Tyner for $1 in September of 2006.
APRIL KAUFFMAN CASE
In the case of murdered radio host April Kauffman, Tyner is being accused of failing to disclose information to defense counsel.
The plaintiffs claim there were multiple instances when Tyner learned of possible inappropriate actions by detectives working on the case, but purposefully failed to initiate internal affairs investigations consistent with and required by the Attorney General Directive on Internal Affairs.
Kauffman was found murdered in her Linwood home in 2012. A man charged in her killing, Ferdinand Augello, was found guilty by a jury and is now behind bars.
In August of 2017, Ruberton reportedly advised First Assistant Prosecutor Cary Shill about a prior internal affairs investigation involving the lead detective assigned to the Kauffman murder case. According to the complaint, the matter was never reviewed by Shill or disclosed to the court.
The lawsuit alleges that evidence in the Kauffman case was leaked by officers and evidence was lost and nothing was done about it.
DISMISSING PROSECUTION/ ALLEGED NEPOTISM
According to the complaint, Tyner and Shill directed that a criminal prosecution be dismissed against an individual with close political ties to the Atlantic City Democratic Party.
In other instances, the women claim Tyner hired and promoted family and friends violating the code of ethics. The women also say Tyner protected a lawyer who was reported to have smuggled marijuana into a county jail for a client.
The lawsuit alleges that the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is riddled with gender discrimination.
Fetzer says her promised salary decreased from $135,000 to $125,000 per year.
“At that same time, two men in the office received substantial pay increases. Defendant-Shill received a pay raise of approximately $8,000, and Defendant-Formica (who has significantly less experience and seniority) received an approximate $30,000 pay raise,” the lawsuit reads.
Tyner later allegedly informed Fetzer that her $125,000 salary would drop to $112,518, which lawyers say was the same pay as three male chief assistant prosecutors who had approximately half as much experience and seniority than Fetzer.
The women claim they were purposely left out of important meetings while their counterparts, some men, were able to attend. They also claim they were bypassed on promotions — though they were qualified — by people and friends close to Tyner.
“The number of women in lead, leadership and higher ranking roles within the ACPO has, historically, been scarce with little to no effort made by Defendants ACPO and the County to actively recruit qualified female candidates,” the lawsuit alleges.
The women say due to the actions of Tyner and his office, they have suffered from serious and grave economic consequences, inability to secure future employment, stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness, among other things.
The three women are seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury.
Tyner, two of his lieutenants, Cary Shill and Mario Formica, Atlantic County, New Jersey, and the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office are all named in the lawsuit.
The attorney general’s office could not comment on any pending investigation.
Tyner’s office released this statement on the lawsuit and allegations:
“It is apparent that the plaintiffs are living in an alternative universe. The very same conduct they accuse me and the members of my administration of committing was actually carried out by them and others during their brief, ineffective period of leadership of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office. I am disappointed that this has drawn attention away from all of the important work that the women and men of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office accomplish on a daily basis. In 2019, we look forward to continuing to fight the scourge of the opioid epidemic, human trafficking, sexual assaults and violent crime,” Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said.