Atlantic prosecutor accused of gender discrimination in whistleblower lawsuit

Former Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton, center, and former Lt. Heather McManus, third from left, allege Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner demoted high-ranking women while giving men raises, paid newly hired women at a lower rate, covered up complaints of gender discrimination and spoke in a derogatory fashion about women in general. Also pictured are attorneys Michelle Douglass and Philip Burnham.

An Atlantic County freeholder and the county executive are the latest to be named in a whistleblower lawsuit against the county Prosecutor’s Office that alleges gender discrimination, retaliation and other illicit behavior.

The original lawsuit, filed by former Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton, former Lt. Heather McManus and current Assistant Prosecutor Donna Fetzer on Jan. 10 in Atlantic County Superior Court, was dismissed Jan. 23.

It was then refiled that same day to include County Executive Dennis Levinson and Freeholder Frank Formica, according to court records.

Levinson, who said he was served with the lawsuit Sunday, said it’s “astounding.”

“The county government has no say over the Prosecutor’s Office,” he said Wednesday. “We have nothing to do with day-to-day activity.”

Likewise, Formica said he “could not believe” he was served Wednesday morning, calling the suit “schoolyard bullcrap.”

The latest version of the suit alleges Levinson and Formica “refuse to look deeper at gender bias and systemically devalue plaintiffs, as women, in the workplace” and “have publicly announced their support of the male defendants even before this lawsuit was filed and even before all the facts were and/or have been disclosed,” according to the 146-page suit.

In return for their support, Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner provided financial gain to their family members, according to the suit.

The suit alleges Levinson’s son-in-law, who is not named in the lawsuit, received a promotion and a $50,000 salary bump, and Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Mario Formica, Frank’s brother and a co-defendant in the suit, received a $30,000 raise.

In a statement, Michelle Douglass and Philip Burnham, lawyers for the women, said Levinson and Formica “aided and supported other defendants in their wrongdoing” and that they have “unfairly attempted to influence the Board of Freeholders in favor of the defendants regarding the claims in this lawsuit and have attempted to discredit the women’s claims.”

In response to the original suit, the Prosecutor’s Office posted a statement that day from Tyner on its Facebook page.

“It is apparent that the plaintiffs are living in an alternative universe,” the statement said. “The very same conduct they accuse me and the members of my administration of committing was actually carried out by them and others during their brief, ineffective period of leadership of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office. I am disappointed that this has drawn attention away from all of the important work that the women and men of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office accomplish on a daily basis.”

In addition to allegations of gender discrimination, the three women claim Tyner was involved in mortgage fraud, failed to investigate a claim that a police officer was leaking confidential information about the April Kauffman murder case and failed to tell defense counsel about the possible leak, fired employees to hire his brother and refused to investigate after an assistant prosecutor exchanged advice via texts with a defendant in a pending domestic violence case.

Also named in the suit are the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, Atlantic County and Prosecutor Cary Shill.

Contact: 609-272-7241 Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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