NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted June 18, 2013
On appeal from the Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2009-1286.
Alterman & Associates, LLC, attorneys for appellant Bruce Cooper (Stuart J. Alterman, on the brief).
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent Civil Service Commission (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Brandon Hawkins, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Before Judges Parrillo and Messano.
Appellant Bruce Cooper appeals from a final agency decision of the Civil Service Commission (Commission) finding him in violation of N.J.A.C. 4A:2-2.3(a)(6), conduct unbecoming a public employee, and several Administrative Orders, and imposing discipline of forty-days suspension. We affirm.
Cooper is an eight-year veteran police officer of the Department of Human Services (DHS), assigned to a regional office of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), as part of its security detail. Naomi Minus-Jackson is a social worker with DCPP at the same regional office. Cooper would assist Minus-Jackson and others by providing security during home visits and in performing background checks. According to Minus-Jackson, she and Cooper were "co-workers, work friends, " and had no relationship outside of the workplace.
Minus-Jackson was planning a wedding and expressed her desire to lose some weight for the occasion to some of her co-workers. Cooper mentioned to her that he and his wife were using a certain diet drink that was helping them lose weight and that Minus-Jackson might want to try the product. Approximately one week later, Minus-Jackson found two cans of a diet drink on her desk. She brought them home but did not drink them. Over the ensuing weeks, Cooper asked Minus-Jackson several times if she tried the drinks and every time she responded in the negative. As Cooper's actions became more persistent, Minus-Jackson felt increasingly intimidated and even reported the matter to her supervisors.
On January 20, 2008, Cooper called Minus-Jackson into his office and again asked her if she tried the drinks he left for her. According to Minus-Jackson, Cooper stated he was disappointed in her for not trying them and informed her he was trying to sell them. Cooper, an African-American, told her that she did not get back to him because she was African-American, and that all the white people he gave the drinks to got back to him sooner. Cooper began raising his voice and a co-worker intervened by pretending Minus-Jackson had a phone call at her desk.
Later that day, Minus-Jackson found on her desk a copy of the cover of a book titled, "The Impact of Slavery on African-Americans." She immediately threw it in her trashcan. Soon after, Cooper approached her at the workplace and tried to discuss the book. Minus-Jackson told Cooper that she did not want to discuss the book, as it was insulting to her and walked away.
Minus-Jackson returned to work the next day but was still visibly upset. Cooper again confronted her several times during the day in an aggressive way, even blocking her path on one instance. Minus-Jackson repeatedly told Cooper he was "out of line." Cooper later sent her an insulting email. Her job performance began to suffer so she reported his actions to her superior. Other co-workers testified to these confrontations.
Detective Lance Geisel, a DHS police officer, investigated this matter. Geisel interviewed Cooper, Minus-Jackson and numerous witnesses. In Cooper's office, Geisel observed promotional materials for diet drinks. According to Geisel, Cooper admitted to selling diet drinks while on duty and that he did not secure permission to do so. Cooper had also previously ...