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Reverse-discrimination suit against Freeport, Hardwick gets under way

Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick is being accused with

Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick is being accused with discriminating against a white village police official. The former mayor is seen on Oct. 2, 2013. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Attorneys in a federal lawsuit accusing Freeport and former Mayor Andrew Hardwick of discrimination against a white village police official began selecting jurors Wednesday.

Hardwick, who is black and lost the mayoral election in March 2013, could not be reached, and current village officials would not comment on pending litigation. Hardwick's lawyer, Kenneth Novikoff at Rivkin Radler in Uniondale, could not be reached. His secretary said he was picking jurors in this case.

The civil-rights case before U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt in Central Islip began in January 2012 with village Lt. Christopher Barrella bolstering his complaint by contending such discrimination was enforced by Hardwick throughout the village.

"Upon his being sworn in as mayor [in 2009], Hardwick immediately began terminating and demoting qualified, experienced Non-Hispanic White employees, and replacing them with less qualified and less experienced Hispanic and Black employees. Many of these changes were racially motivated," Barrella's papers claim.

Barrella, 47, a Suffolk resident with a master's degree, came in first on the civil service test for chief of police. Hardwick instead named Lt. Miguel Bermudez, 55, of Freeport, who has no degree, lacked a previously required four years in his lieutenant position and came in third on the test.

Lieutenant is the highest civil service title in the department, except chief.

Bermudez, one of the most junior lieutenants, has four more years on the job than Barrella and was a fellow village firefighter with Hardwick for many years.

"Based on this history and relationship, Hardwick trusted Bermudez. On the other hand, before Hardwick was elected mayor, he and the Plaintiff [Barrella] did not know each other," Spatt said in a ruling last week in which he declined to keep the case from going forward.

To bolster his decision to reject a summary judgment, the judge wrote, "The Court finds that a jury could reasonably conclude that Hardwick's decision to promote Bermudez, and his concomitant failure to consider the Plaintiff for any command Staff position, resulted from discrimination on the basis of race."

Bermudez was first promoted to deputy chief, then assistant chief before being named chief, while Barrella was not interviewed for any of the positions.

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