A former Matawan police lieutenant is suing the township, alleging his superiors retaliated against him by firing him over his CBD oil use.
In a lawsuit filed in Monmouth County, Christopher Stark contends he was targeted by the department with a drug test after he filed a certification in April 2019 in support of a sexual discrimination lawsuit brought by fellow officer Jennifer Paglia.
According to the suit, Stark was selected for a random drug test four months later and he tested positive for Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana which can be found in CBD oil in trace amounts. He was eventually fired this March, despite disclosing his use of CBD oil prior to the test, providing receipts for the purchase of the oil and showing a letter from his doctor explaining that he prescribed it, the complaint says.
“Stark was not using illegal drugs, had prescriptions for his identified medications on the medical information form, and was never identified as being under the influence, having his senses impaired, or his alertness diminished while on duty in his 21 plus years as a police officer with the Borough of Matawan,” the complaint reads.
An attorney representing the township, Richard Ganter, did not respond to a request for comment.
CBD oil is legal to purchase in New Jersey and is not listed as a prohibited substance on the state attorney general’s or Matawan Police Department’s drug testing policy, the suit contends.
Stark alleges he was retaliated against for giving a sworn certification and deposition testimony in support of Paglia’s action against the township.
In Paglia’s lawsuit, filed in 2018, she contends she was the subject of retaliation harassment for filing a separate sex discrimination complaint against Matawan five years earlier. In 2016, Matawan agreed to pay Paglia $315,000 to settle her first legal action, according to Stark’s filing.
In an answer to the suit filed in May, the township denied the allegations and said they did not retaliate against Stark because of his support of Paglia’s case. The township also said Stark “failed to provide requested documentation regarding the purchase of the CBD oil and was untruthful.”
“No causal connection exists between (Stark’s) alleged protected conduct and any adverse action taken by the Borough of Matawan,” the answer reads.
According to Stark’s complaint, he certified in April 2019 that he had heard then-lieutenant, now Police Chief Thomas Falco say “F— that bitch, She’s trying to take my house. We should write her up for every little thing,” in reference to Paglia in 2015 after her first complaint had been filed. Stark certified that Falco made the same comment to him again in March or April of 2016, after Paglia settled the case with the town, the suit says.
Within weeks, Stark alleges he was being called “a rat” by others in the department and was ostracized by members of the force. He also contends he saw a blackboard in the department that had a drawing of a “circle of trust” and “identified (Stark) as being outside the circle of trust.”
In the certification, which was attached to Stark’s lawsuit, Stark said he told a patrolman to stop writing up Paglia “for small things that everyone does in the police department,” and the officer responded that he was told to write up Paglia “for every little thing.”
Stark alleges the patrolman told him that Falco was the person who gave that direction.
“Stark was ostracized by members of the department, including his captain and Falco,’’ the lawsuit said.
As part of the suit, Stark is seeking his job back, expungement of his disciplinary record and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
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