Human Resources News & Insights

Promotion denied because he was fat — or did 14 lawsuits factor in?

Studies have shown some managers have a bias against those employees who are overweight. So you might think a former police sergeant could have a case against his former department when he says he was denied promotions because he was considered too fat. But there’s more to the story.

James Citta has sued the Seaside Park, NJ, Police Department claiming harassment.

Citta claims he was told he would never be promoted because of his weight. He underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2001 to lose weight, but he claims the harassment continued.

He also says he was retaliated against for issuing parking tickets to firefighters and lifeguards and that a doctored photo showing him in a Nazi uniform was distributed at a Borough Council meeting.

Citta went on disability leave in spring 2007. He was granted permanent disability effective Jan. 1, 2008. Press accounts haven’t stated the reason for the disability coverage.

Given Citta’s weight, his attempt to address the problem, the claims about the doctored photos and disability coverage, this case is already complicated.

But wait, there’s more.

Citta was named a defendant in many of the 14 excessive force lawsuits filed against the Seaside Park Police Department between 2005 and 2007. The borough’s insurance carrier has settled 12 of those lawsuits for more than $2.7 million according to the Asbury Park Press.

Citta was use-of-force training officer for the department. He was in charge of instructing police to follow state guidelines on how to use force to subdue subjects and ensuring excessive force wasn’t used.

So, when you have a sticky HR situation, just remember this case and be glad you don’t have to be one of those who try to untangle it.

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  1. This is a tough one. But really…anyone can accuse someone of misconduct. Public employees are subject to the public. Dealing with people is really tough, especially the public. I find it really interesting that this former police sargeant, has escessive force claims against him filed by what? Would be criminals? Are we assuming they are honest? Wow! All of that is open to interpretation and very subjective. Maybe he did, because he had to. What is he to say, “Sir…please don’t struggle and allow me to handcuff you.” The fact that the insurance settled doesn’t sound like he was convicted by a judge and jury. It was probably easier to pay “nuisance” settlements than to actually defend this individual, so this doesn’t necessarily mean he is guilty.

    As an HR professional, I have been called the devil and am greatly feared by employees. The truth is, how can you fire someone and not be viewed as the devil by their coworkers who do not have the whole story? How can discipline, and rightly deserved, be issued without miffing someone? I am either deeply loved or deeply hated. There is no in between. I have 4 formal complaints about me and most of them have to do with the fact that I am never at my desk when they stop by unannounced to my office for some HR assistance. We run 24/7 and yes, I work 12 hours but not 24, sorry.

    My hat goes off to public employees who have to go through false accusations…glad I am not one of them.

  2. First of all, all of those who are arrested are not criminals (innocent until proven guilty). Some of those in law enforcement do in fact use excessive force – there is enough video evidence to support that. I can understand two or three lawsuits being the norm – but 14? It seemed even his fellow police offers and public service peers didn’t respect him and there is a reason for that.

    Although I really didn’t want to comment on this, I can’t believe as an HR professional you think it is OK or normal to be “greatly feared.” I’m sure there are employees who do not like things that have happened and blamed me for part of it, but I KNOW I have the respect of my employees. I reach out to those I might have a broken relationship with because I am still HR and still there to support them.

    Their perception is their reality.

  3. Gosh…I do need to clarify that I do not think it is normal to be “greatly feared” and I don’t make reference that I appreciate that. When I state that I am viewed as the devil and greatly feared, this is true and correct. These poor employees think that when I call them to my office, that they are going to be canned. I cannot help the way they feel, it is just the way it is.

    This could be attributed to many things. I deal with the employee directly when it deals with sensitive matters such as discipline, medical issues, garnishments, collector phone calls, etc. All other items can be dealt with their supervisor as the messenger. Maybe that is why they are terrified. Who knows. I just want the record to reflect that I am not happy nor do I consider it normal by any means to be greatly feared.

    About the former lieutenant, we don’t really have his side of the story either and that is why I am more objective on the subject. I merely expressed that sometimes things are not as they appear.

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