HAMMONTON — The town must pay a total of $80,000 in compensatory damages to four members of the Hammonton Independent Volunteer Fire Company for violating the members’ equal protection rights under the state Constitution, according to information released by the fire company.

The four individuals filed the suit in January 2016 after being suspended in September 2015, said Joe Lizza, lieutenant/secretary of Hammonton Independent Volunteer Fire Company No. 2, in a press release issued Tuesday.

The jury met again Wednesday and decided it would not award additional punitive damages in the case, said Joseph Caruso, president of Hammonton Independent Volunteer Fire Company No. 2.

Mayor Steve DiDonato said the town is determining its options, including appeal, after the verdict.

Caruso, 53, was among the four firefighters who sued the town and will split the $80,000, along with William Tomasello, 50; John H. Warren Jr., 70, and John Michael Warren, 37. All of the firefighters live in the town, Caruso said.

At the time the four were suspended in 2015, DiDonato said other volunteer firefighters had alleged sexual harassment against a female firefighter, the sending of threatening text messages and that one firefighter reportedly drove another off the road on purpose.

The jury trial started Oct. 15 in the Atlantic County Civil Courthouse in Atlantic City, Lizza said.

“The jury found that the town of Hammonton did not properly follow its own procedures for handling accusations of this magnitude,” Lizza said. “The town has continuously argued very adamantly that volunteers are not entitled to equal protection and/or constitutional rights guaranteed in the United States Constitution.”

In 2015, fire company members were only notified of these allegations after being publicly humiliated in a televised council meeting and subsequent newspaper articles, Lizza said.

Staff Writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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