Military

N.J. cop says department abruptly cut off pay just before military deployment to Middle East

A Clifton police officer in the Air Force National Guard who is suing the city over alleged discrimination and harassment over his military service says the city has retaliated by cutting off his pay as he prepares for a six-month deployment.

Clifton stopped paying Michael Zigarelli in mid-June when the officer began his leave from the department to for pre-deployment assignments, his attorney Patrick Toscano said by phone Friday. Zigarelli is scheduled to depart on Tuesday for the Middle East and has missed two bi-weekly paychecks, Toscano said.

“He hasn’t been paid and he doesn’t know at what point he’s going to be paid,” Toscano said of his client, a married father of three young children. “This is a guy who loves God, country and family. I can describe him as exceedingly bothered by having to go and not knowing financially what’s going to happen to his family.”

Officers are supposed to be paid the difference between their military pay and their police department salaries when deployed but Toscano said Zigarelli hasn’t received a dime in about a month.

City officials claimed Zigarelli, who has been in the military for more than 20 years, used up his 30-days of leave – a policy which had never previously been announced, the attorney said.

A Clifton official didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement issued to NBCNewYork.com, a city attorney said, “Regarding officer Zigarelli, the city denies any wrongdoing related to his employment, any deployment related to him or any leave he has requested or taken. Not only does the city of Clifton comply with all statutory requirements related to paid military leave, its policy actually provides benefits that are more generous than those required by statute.”

Zigarelli is one of 17 officers who also serve in the military who have alleged they have been repeatedly harassed and bullied by their bosses over the time commitment associated with their service.

Zigarelli filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Chief Mark Centurione in May. While an attorney for Centurione has issued a “boilerplate” response, Clifton has yet to answer the complaint, according to Toscano.

The claim contends Zigarelli’s service became a problem for police brass in 2008, and he’s since been harassed for missing work for military service. Zigarelli’s superiors in the police department also told him in a threatening manner not to accept military orders and told him he’ll forced to retire from the military as soon as possible to avoid losing his job as a police officer, the suit says.

He is suing for free speech violation, discrimination, infliction of emotional distress and defamation.

Zigarelli and the other officers received letters in November ordering them to produce seven years of military pay stubs to prove they were actually deployed overseas.

The letters – sent to the officers in November a week after Veterans Day – was the first of, in some cases, three memos sent to officers with a demand to produce documentation that they were serving in the military on the days they claimed, an attorney for one of the officers said at the time. Police officers were already required to provide proof of drill schedules, pay scales and military orders.

Centurione, the chief, has also notified he city that he plans to sue – alleging officials “defamed, libeled and slandered” him by stating to the public and news outlets that he was “behind” the plan to deny officers’ their pay.

Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman.

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