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Judge Dismisses Fair Lawn Dispatcher's Job Conspiracy Claim Against Borough, Department, Chief

Fair Lawn police
Fair Lawn police Photo Credit: Fair Lawn PD

A judge in Hackensack has rejected a Fair Lawn dispatcher’s claim that borough officials conspired to keep him from getting police jobs.

A lawsuit filed by Andrew Flax alleged that a report was deliberately placed in his internal affairs file detailing a three-week suspension following an alleged rape at a bachelor party at the borough’s Rescue Squad building.

This prevented him from being hired as a police officer in Fair Lawn and other towns, causing him financial and emotional distress, public embarrassment and more, he contended.

Flax provided no proof of those claims, Superior Court Judge Mary Thurber ruled in throwing out the suit against the borough, the police department and Police Chief Glen Cauwels earlier this month.

Flax, who joined the police department as a dispatcher in June 2004, was an auxiliary police officer and member of the Fair Lawn Rescue Squad when he attended a December 2008 bachelor party where a female dancer claimed she’d been raped.

Flax said he left the Rescue Squad building before the alleged incident.

The Rescue Squad board suspended him for 21 days, however, noting that Flax was a line officer at the time and shouldn’t have allowed the party to go on.

Flax took a job as a security officer with the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Department in September 2014 and then as a deputy sheriff with the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department in May 2016.

He claimed his trouble began after “a woman claiming to be from the Bergen Record newspaper” called him in July 2016 asking about “issues with the FLPD’s hiring.”

Flax said he told her that he couldn’t speak with the media. He said he then reported the call to Cauwels.

The chief told him that he would “never become a police officer” if it turned out he was lying, Flax claimed, adding that an internal investigation later cleared him.

Around that same time, the lawsuit says, Flax was certified #5 on the Civil Service test to be a Fair Lawn police officer. The job went to someone else, it says.

Flax was certified #3 on the test in March 2017. The opening was withdrawn, however, and the vacancy wasn’t filled, the suit says.

Flax was “extended a conditional offer of employment” by the North Haledon Police Department but never heard back, the lawsuit says.

He then applied to become a New Jersey Institute of Technology police officer, but was told: “Unfortunately, information discovered during the course of our background investigation precludes us from offering the position to you,” it says.

Flax also applied to River Edge, which didn’t hire him, either, the lawsuit says. Norwood, Ramsey and Kean University passed on him as well.

Flax sued in Superior Court in June 2018, claiming that his rights under the U.S. Constitution and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act were violated.

Details of the Rescue Squad probe were wrongly placed into his internal affairs file, which “caused him not to be hired by several employers and harmed his reputation,” the lawsuit contends.

The law firm of DeCotiis FitzPatrick Cole & Giblin asked Thurber to dismiss the suit on behalf of the defendants.

Flax provided "no facts to support the conspiracy claim,” they argued.

They also noted, in part, that the section of the Constitution that Flax claimed was violated refers specifically to racial discrimination and that federal law doesn’t protect the right to a specific job.

Thurber agreed. She also rejected Flax’s attempts to amend his original complaint.

Flax had pursued his claims for more than 18 months based on the original lawsuit, the judge wrote in her May 22 decision. That included a failed attempt at mediation, she noted.

Flax got a new attorney who sought to file a new complaint, but by that point the defendants had already asked her to dismiss the case.

“The court agrees with [the] defendants that [Flax’s] attempt to abandon every claim in the initial complaint but to use that failed complaint to bootstrap an entirely new case into the old docket number must be rejected,” Thurber wrote.

“The initial case should not be kept alive solely to allow [Flax] to start a brand-new case eighteen months in,” she added in dismissing the entire case.

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