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Freeport, ex-mayor win ruling in discrimination case

A jury ruled in favor of Freeport Village

A jury ruled in favor of Freeport Village and its previous mayor in a case where Freeport Police Lt. Christopher Barrella, seen here on Jan. 26, 2012, claimed he was passed over for the force's top job because of reverse discrimination. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled in favor of Freeport Village and its previous mayor in a case where a police lieutenant alleged he was passed over for the force’s top job because of discrimination.

Lt. Christopher Barrella, who remains with the department, plans to appeal the decision, his Manhattan-based attorney Amanda Fugazy said Tuesday.

After a five-day trial in Central Islip, the jury returned with its decision in less than three hours Monday, attorneys said.

Barrella, an Italian-American, filed his lawsuit in 2012, saying he should have been promoted to police chief in 2010 over Miguel Bermudez, a Cuban-American who scored lower on the civil service test and has less education than Barrella. The lieutenant filed the suit against the village and former Mayor Andrew Hardwick in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.

Barrella said Hardwick, who is black, wanted to promote a minority candidate to the post and had worked with Bermudez as firefighters.

In 2014, a federal jury awarded Barrella $1.35 million. Last year, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned the jury’s award and ordered a new trial, citing legal errors in the 2014 trial.

The new trial was held last month before Judge Leonard D. Wexler. Fugazy said Wexler tried to limit the trial to three days and “unfairly excluded a large majority of the plaintiff’s evidence.”

“The plaintiff is very disappointed in the outcome,” Fugazy said.

Uniondale attorney Keith Corbett, lead counsel for Freeport, said village officials are glad the trial is over.

“As we said from the beginning, the village never engaged in race discrimination and the chief of police position was appropriately appointed,” Corbett said.

Ken Novikoff, a Uniondale-based attorney for Hardwick, said the jury’s decision shows Hardwick, who lost to current Mayor Robert Kennedy in 2013, chose the best candidate.

“He has fought this case because he knows that it was the right choice,” Novikoff said of Hardwick.

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