Female A.C. police officer files
Published: Saturday, June 17, 2006
Updated: Saturday, June 17, 2006
ATLANTIC CITY — Atlantic City police Officer Michelle Zanes
filed a civil lawsuit this week claiming several officers
sexually harassed her and Chief John Mooney did nothing
Zanes, 34, alleges in a 29-page complaint that officers made
explicit comments to her, asked her for sex and retaliated
against her for speaking out.
The lawsuit, filed in the Atlantic County Civil Courthouse
in Atlantic City, names Mooney and Michael Russack, an
investigator with the department's Internal Affairs Bureau,
Clifford Van Syoc, the plaintiff's attorney, said several
officers' names will likely be added to the lawsuit.
“We have Mooney named because he is the chief,” Van Syoc
said Friday. “We think that the example he sets as a police
officer is the perfect
negative example. You would
think a police chief hearing about what she (Zanes) has gone
through would see if she is OK.”
The lawsuit charges that in 6½ years of employment, Zanes
suffered sexual and religious harassment, discrimination and
a hostile work environment. She has been out of work on
disability since June because of Russack's alleged
retaliation, Van Syoc said.
Beginning in January 2000 and continuing through 2002, Sgt.
Anthony Pherribo allegedly harassed Zanes because of her
gender. He allegedly singled her out and in one instance
“spooned her” by rubbing against her from behind and also
did other improper, sexually offensive acts to the
plaintiff, the lawsuit reads. Pherribo was characterized in
the lawsuit as engaging in “a pattern of sexual harassment.”
The lawsuit lists other officers who are accused of
harassing the female officer. Zanes said one member of the
department followed her home from a police event and tried
to kiss her. Another allegedly became angry when she would
not sleep with him and yelled at her. In one incident, an
officer took a banana off Zane's desk and shoved it in her
mouth while co-workers snickered, the lawsuit reads.
Atlantic City Solicitor Kim Baldwin said the case is without
merit. She said Mooney is the main defendant because of a
personal vendetta Van Syoc has against the chief for a prior
lawsuit in which Mooney's name was dismissed.
She said Zanes' lawsuit was unexpected, considering the
officer did not go to Internal Affairs to voice concerns
about nearly all of the allegations she put forth in the
“There are policies and procedures within the Police
Department to report sexual harassment and other violations
if someone feels they have been victimized,” Baldwin said.
“Ms. Zanes made one allegation a number of years ago which
was fully investigated. She never made any other allegations
until she filed this lawsuit. She knows of the process to
report violations, but she chose not to use it, which calls
into question whether these other incidents ever occurred.”
Baldwin said she is filing a motion to have Van Syoc removed
from the case because he will likely be called as a witness
at the trial.
On June 6, Van Syoc sent a letter to Mooney indicating Zanes
was subjected to a hostile work environment. About 20
minutes later, Internal Affairs contacted the officer at her
home. She went to the department with her attorney during
her on-duty time and Van Syoc allegedly “obstructed the
investigation” and participated in discussions held between
Zanes and other officers, Baldwin wrote.
Zanes is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
To e-mail Madelaine Vitale at The Press: