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Appeals court sides with Freeport, former mayor in bias case

Freeport Police Lt. Christopher Barrella, right, sued then-Mayor

Freeport Police Lt. Christopher Barrella, right, sued then-Mayor Andrew Hardwick and the village after Barrella was passed over for the job of chief. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A federal appeals court ruled in favor of Freeport Village and its previous mayor in a case where a police lieutenant alleged he was passed over for the chief’s job because of discrimination, affirming a lower court’s ruling, court documents show.

Christopher Barrella, an Italian-American who remains a lieutenant in the department, filed a lawsuit in 2012 alleging that he was not awarded the top job in 2010 by then-Mayor Andrew Hardwick.

Barrella, 50, has said that Hardwick, who is black, wanted to promote a minority officer to become chief and chose Miguel Bermudez, a Cuban-American. Bermudez had scored lower on the Civil Service test and does not have a college degree, while Barrella has bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees.

A federal jury awarded Barrella, who has been on the force since 1990, $1.35 million in 2014 but the case was overturned on appeal in 2016, citing legal errors, and ordered the case to be retried. The second jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled in favor of Hardwick and the village last year after a three-hour deliberation.

A three-judge panel for U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled Tuesday that Barrella’s arguments raised on appeal were “without merit” and let the district court’s decision stand.

Barrella’s attorney, Amanda Fugazy, said her client plans to ask for the full court to reconsider the verdict.

“Christopher Barrella has been discriminated against,” she said.

Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said in a statement that he was “pleased” with the court’s decision.

“It’s unfortunate that our residents were burdened with millions of dollars in legal costs during this unnecessary trial and appeal,” he said, but did not immediately say how much the village spent on the case.

Hardwick’s attorney, Kenneth Novikoff, said the former mayor is “extremely gratified.”

“He has held from Day One that Chief Bermudez was the best candidate to lead the police department,” he said.

Keith Corbett, who represented the village, cited the quick turnaround in the decisions.

“A jury verdict within three hours and an appellate order within a week of oral argument clearly demonstrate no discrimination occurred in this case,” Corbett said in a statement.

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