A federal jury has awarded $1.35 million to a white Freeport police lieutenant who sued the village for racial discrimination after it awarded the police chief's job to a Hispanic officer with fewer academic qualifications and a lower test score.
"It has been a long and trying process [since January 2012], but I always had faith that . . . a jury of my peers . . . would see that I was discriminated against," Lt. Christopher Barrella, 47, of Suffolk County, said in a news release from one of his lawyers, Amanda Fugazy of Glen Cove.
Keith M. Corbin, a Freeport spokesman, said village officials plan to appeal Thursday's jury decision. "There is no supporting evidence . . . that the Village of Freeport discriminated against Lt. Barrella," he said.
Former Mayor Andrew Hardwick was a defendant in the case, but he could not be reached Thursday for comment. Neither could his lawyer, Ken Novikoff of Rivkin Radler in Uniondale. Hardwick was the village's first black mayor.
Barrella, who is still on the job, had charged in court papers that upon "being sworn in as mayor, Hardwick immediately began terminating and demoting qualified, experienced Non-Hispanic whites and replacing them with less qualified and less experienced Hispanic and Black employees."
Miguel Bermudez, 55, had four more years on the job in Freeport than Barrella, but no college, while Barrella has two college degrees. Barrella also scored highest on the test for chief; Bermudez came in third. Bermudez had been a fellow firefighter with Hardwick for many years in Freeport.
"Based on this history and relationship, Hardwick trusted Bermudez," U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt in Central Islip said in an earlier decision, while noting that Hardwick did not know Barrella before being named mayor in 2009.
Bermudez, also a lieutenant, was promoted to deputy chief, then assistant chief before becoming chief. Barrella was not interviewed for any of the jobs.
The jury award included $200,000 in punitive damages. Freeport must also pay the expenses for all the lawyers in the case, Fugazy said. "Racial discrimination against white employees is just as unlawful as discrimination [against] black, Hispanic or Asian employees," Fugazy said. "Mayor Andrew Hardwick and the Village of Freeport seemingly forgot that."