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$440,000 Settles Police Officer Harassment, Retaliation Claim

by Christopher Zoukis

A Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania police officer has accepted $440,000 to settle a claim that he was harassed and retaliated against for reporting a sexual assault committed by his partner.

Ritchie Webb had been working for the Bristol Borough police department for almost a decade when he responded to a domestic dispute on August 29, 2008. During the course of the call, Webb learned that his partner had committed a forcible sex act on the woman who had called the police. Webb reported the incident to his superiors, and initiated an investigation. Webb's partner was ultimately fired and imprisoned for the sexual assault.

In the aftermath of the incident, Webb claimed that he suffered a hostile work environment, harassment and retaliation. He alleged that Sergeant Joseph Moors and Detective Randy Morris came to his home and threatened him on multiple occasions, and that fellow officers refused to provide him backup on calls.

The woman who was assaulted sued the borough. During the litigation, Webb was told by borough attorney Christopher Gerbert that he might be deposed and, according to Webb, was pressured to change his story. After Webb refused, fellow officers Maria Robles and Dean Johnson accused Webb of threatening to shoot someone because he was not going to be represented at the deposition.

Webb was suspended for two months as a result of the accusation. After he was deposed, he claimed that the harassment continued. Webb ultimately filed suit in federal court, naming as defendants Bristol Borough, mayor Robert A. Lebo, city council president Ralph DiGuiseppe Jr., attorney Christopher P. Gerber of the firm Siana, Bellowoar & McAndrew LLP, police chief Arnold A. Porter, detective Randy Morris, sergeant Joseph Moors, and police officers Maria Robles, Dean Johnson, James Ellis and Charles Palmer. He also sued Gerber for violation of his constitutional rights, but those claims were dismissed early on by the court. Gerber vehemently denied pressuring Webb to change his story.

The parties agreed to settle the case September 16, 2013. The Borough agreed to pay Webb $440,000, allegedly for economic reasons, at the behest of their insurer. Webb was represented by Louis F. Hornstine of the Philadelphia firm Hornstine, Pelloni & Hornstine, LLC.

Case: Webb v. Bristol Borough, et al., United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Division, Case No. 2:11-cv-07834-AB (September 16, 2013).

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