In a recent court filing, Haddon Township, N.J., officials reiterated their refusal to offer desk duty to a police officer with impaired vision who alleges same-sex workplace harassment.
Haddon Township Officer Jason DeMent says he was victimized by unwanted sexual advances by Haddon Township Police Chief Mark Cavallo.
In June, DeMent requested temporary desk duty while he pursues experimental treatment for a vision impairment. Cavallo allegedly denied his request, and DeMent believes the denial was in retaliation for his rejection of Cavallo’s alleged sexual advances.
DeMent plans to enroll in a clinical trial shortly that holds promise for Stargardt’s disease, a rare vision disorder afflicting him.
But township officials say DeMent’s vision impairment shows no sign of improvement. They say he can’t perform basic job duties, such as pursuing fleeing suspects, securing crime scenes, discharging a firearm accurately and operating radar equipment.
DeMent disputes those assertions, and claims he’s more able-bodied than other township officers who receive accommodations for physical impairments.
The township’s Sept. 28 filing emphasizes the speculative nature of DeMent’s potential for improved vision.
“[DeMent’s] complaint is devoid of any allegation that [DeMent] has been accepted into any clinical trials, when they would occur, how long they would last or that it is probable he would be able to perform the essential functions of his job as a police officer in the near future,” the filing states.
DeMent, an 11-year veteran, counters that the township placed him on desk duty for nine months when he injured his shoulder. He says a similar opportunity should be provided for his vision impairment.
But the township says the accommodation for DeMent’s shoulder injury was temporary in nature.
“[DeMent’s] allegation that he may have been provided a temporary light-duty assignment in the past for a work-related injury is irrelevant, as there is a clear distinction between temporary and indefinite light-duty assignments,” the township’s filing states.
DeMent refuses to concede that his vision impairment is permanent. He also points to other workers with similar impairments who were given lengthy periods of time to recover.
DeMent has been placed on sick leave until Oct. 28. His status as a township employee remains unclear after that date.
DeMent contends there’s “ample work” for him inside the police station, including taking walk-in reports, processing arrests, training new officers, answering phone calls, handling firearms investigations and providing courtroom security.
DeMent also contends he’s able to operate a police cruiser during daylight hours and in familiar areas. But the township questions whether DeMent could safely operate a vehicle in windy, rainy, snowy and icy conditions.
Additionally, the township asserts that a bad precedent would be set if DeMent is accommodated.
“If plaintiff can proceed based on such factual allegations, presumably any permanently disabled employee, no matter the degree of his condition, would have a claim against his employer for not accommodating him with a light-duty assignment based upon an allegation that experimental treatment may be available for his condition in the future,” the township’s filing states.
Cavallo’s alleged sexual advances include asking DeMent to turn around so he could see his rear end; pinching DeMent’s upper leg under a table; calling him “cute” and “handsome;” caressing DeMent’s cheek in a suggestive manner; asking DeMent to “talk dirty to me, baby;” offering to “run away” with DeMent; and texting messages of a sexual nature to DeMent.
As of presstime, U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler hadn’t ruled on the township’s request to dismiss a major portion of DeMent’s lawsuit.
Neither side had a comment for this story.