CLEVELAND -- A former City of Norton police officer has sued the city, the police chief, a police sergeant and a city administrator for discrimination and retaliation over his wrongful termination.
Accordign to his attorney Subodh Chandra, former Norton police officer Nicholas A. Matheny filed a federal civil rights complaint Monday.
Matheny is charging federal and state discrimination, retaliation, conspiracy, and hostile work environment claims against the City of Norton, Police Chief Thaddeus Hete, Police Sergeant John Dalessandro, and City Administrator Richard Ryland.
Matheny's lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and damages and demands a jury trial.
It was filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Christopher A. Boyko.
Federal and state anti-discrimination laws forbid making employment decisions based on religion, or in retaliation for an employee's opposition to discrimination or harassment.
His attorneys have summarized the complaint's allegations below:
Officer Matheny started with the Norton Police Department in 2004. Other than a brief relocation to Nevada in 2008, he served as a patrol officer until November 2010, when he was terminated.
When Matheny relocated, City Administrator Richard Ryland circulated a memo describing Matheny as an "excellent patrolman for the City."
He enjoyed excellent performance reviews and was well-liked among his colleagues.
Officer Matheny adopted the Muslim faith in early 2010. He initially kept his new faith private except among his closest friends, in part, the lawsuit reads, because of anti-Islamic sentiment in the police department, including emails he had received from his direct supervisor, Sergeant Harvey Bechtel.
Matheny's faith remained a private matter until late September 2010 when he handed out his wedding invitations to two colleagues. The wedding invitations, as is customary, "ay Allah Bless This Marriage"at the top.
When Officer Jim Weiss read that language, he launched into a barrage of anti-Muslim statements, making disparaging comments about Matheny's fiancée and her family, who are also Muslims.
Matheny passionately objected to Weiss' bigoted statements. After the incident with Officer Weiss spread throughout the department, Matheny's status as a Muslim became common knowledge among his coworkers.
From that point, he was treated like a pariah. Before his new faith became common knowledge, Officer Matheny had an exemplary performance record.
Shortly before Matheny handed out his wedding invitations, Chief Hete had nominated Officer Matheny to receive an award at a Mothers Against Drunk Driving event, because of Matheny's high number of drunk-driving arrests.
Chief Hete withdrew the nomination after Matheny' conversion became public.
Before Officer Matheny became a Muslim, he had no disciplinary write-ups in his personnel file. But once his conversion became common knowledge, his performance was suddenly seen as lacking.
False and backdated write-ups were placed in Matheny's personnel file, which were meant to create the impression that Matheny was terminated for cause, when in fact he was terminated because of his religious conversion.
Just as Officer Matheny was ending his final shift before his wedding, Chief Hete told Matheny that he would be fired. Matheny and his wife spent their honeymoon distressed over the job threat.
When Matheny returned to work, Chief Hete and Administrator Ryland tried to convince Matheny to quit his job. They threatened to place backdated "warnings"in Matheny' personnel file if he did not leave quietly. Matheny was told that if he agreed to their demands, the "warnings"would be torn up and they would give him a good reference for future employment.
Matheny refused to accede to these demands and was fired.
Since Officer Matheny was fired, Chief Hete has stated that Matheny would be filing his "towelhead terrorist lawsuit"any day now. And a detective put a towel on his head and walked around the department yelling that he was Matheny.
One of Matheny' attorneys, Subodh Chandra, said, "It is simply un-American for a public employer to fire someone because of his religion. Norton officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Norton Police Department's treatment of this officer based on his religion reflects poorly on its ability to serve all members of the community on fair terms."