Claiming gender bias, 3 longtime veterans of Atlantic County prosecutor’s office sue

The plaintiffs — Diane Ruberton, Heather McManus and Donna Fetzer — all have careers spanning decades with the office.

The Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner says the three women are “living in an alternative universe.” (Photo via Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office website)

The Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner says the three women are “living in an alternative universe.” (Photo via Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office website)

Two former and one current employee of the Atlantic County prosecutor’s office are suing Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner, alleging discrimination and retaliation.

The plaintiffs — Diane Ruberton and Heather McManus, who once held managerial positions with the office, and Assistant Prosecutor Donna Fetzer  — all have careers spanning decades.

Attorney Michelle Douglass, who represents Ruberton, said their lawsuit is a whistleblower case targeting “a government official, the prosecutor of Atlantic County, [who] retaliated against essentially all of the women because they dared to report facts that women in the office were not being paid what the men were being paid for similar work. They also reported and refused to participate in conduct that they believed to be unlawful and unethical.”

Ruberton, the first woman to serve as an acting prosecutor in Atlantic County, and McManus, a volunteer firefighter who has worked as a detective in Cumberland and Atlantic counties, asked New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney’s Office to assess Tyner’s management, potential mortgage fraud and possible ethics violations last year.

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Shortly after that, Ruberton was fired and McManus was asked to retire.

“Tyner had the opportunity to figure this out quietly,” said Douglass, “but he refused to meet with us.”

Their 90-page complaint alleges that Tyner sold his home to his father-in-law in 2006 for about half of what he bought it for in 2003 — and then bought it back for $1 three months later.

On the day he was sworn in, Tyner and his wife received notice they defaulted on their home’s mortgage, according to the suit, which claims that “upon realizing that Ms. McManus and Ms. Ruberton were involved in reporting this information to the FBI, Tyner allegedly engaged in conduct designed to harass, embarrass, and humiliate them.”

The lawsuit also says Tyner failed to investigate whether a police officer was leaking confidential information related to the investigation into the murder of radio host April Kauffman.

In addition to covering up several gender-based harassment cases and pay discrepancies, Tyner fired employees to hire his brother at a higher pay rate than others in a similar position, the suit continues.  Tyner paid the son of a political donor $50,000 for an internship that is typically unpaid, it contends and gave a $20,000 raise to a friend of his brother.

In a statement on the prosecutor’s website, Tyner described the plaintiffs as “living in an alternative universe.” He also alleged that the women carried out “the very same conduct they accuse me and members of my administration.”

Douglass disputed Tyner claims.

“All of them have exemplary records of service. They have no disciplinary records, they’re highly credentialed and never had cause to file a single complaint,” she said.

Tyner was appointed Atlantic County prosecutor in 2017 by former Gov. Chris Christie.

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