Nearly $1.8M paid to former NJ fire captain in harassment suit

Former Trenton Fire Capt. Michael Strycharz claimed he was forced to retire after being harassed for exposing an alleged promotions bribery scheme


Kevin Shea
NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

TRENTON, N.J. — A Trenton firefighter who filed suit in 2017 alleging colleagues harassed him for three years and forced him to retire for exposing a promotions bribery scheme has been paid a settlement of nearly $1.8 million.

Lawyers for Michael Strycharz and the city finalized the details in the past few months of a deal that pays him $1,775,000, his lawyer, Justin D. Burns, said.

The city of Trenton has paid a former fire captain nearly $1.8 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed the captain was harassed for exposing an alleged promotions bribery scheme.
The city of Trenton has paid a former fire captain nearly $1.8 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed the captain was harassed for exposing an alleged promotions bribery scheme. (Photo/Michael Mancuso, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

In the suit, Strycharz said the issue began in 2014, when he was a 30-year firefighter who’d been a captain for 20 years and had an unblemished, decorated career.

But supervisors started pressuring him to retire, and a pattern of harassment started that he says was minor at first, but was ramped up with internal charges, then inaction from department leaders and an endless postponement of hearings of his issues.

Strycharz said the motive for his eventual ouster was financial, since police and firefighters pensions max out at 30 years, and a now-retired battalion chief wanted his captain spot. The chief, he said, was running a bribery scheme in which Strycharz alleged candidates were paying bribes that were funneled through the chief’s test prep company. (The chief denied the scheme in 2017, when the suit was filed.)

Fed up and worried about a possible demotion, Strycharz retired, and filed suit.

A Trenton spokesman declined comment on the suit and settlement Tuesday.

“Although Michael received a very substantial settlement in order to resolve his claims, I do not believe anything can replace what Michael really wanted, which was to continue to serve the citizens of Trenton in a dangerous job that he loved until he could retire on his own terms,” his lawyer said in a statement.

“It was a shame that Michael did not get to leave on his own terms, because he deserved that. He deserved better. Now that Michael finally has some closure, I am hoping that he can start to enjoy the retirement that he earned after three-plus decades fighting fires for Trenton.”

It’s been nearly three years of legal wrangling followed by an unusual delay, Burns said.

The settlement was first reached in February, with Trenton paying $800,000 and the city’s insurance carrier paying $975,000.

But a computer hacker stole $982,000 that Trenton’s insurance carrier was wiring to the city for their share. The city had to sue the insurance carrier for the money, when the carrier balked at sending it a second time, Burns said.

Burns and his firm, McMoran, O’Connor, Bramley & Burns, had to also file action to then force the city to make the final payment. That happened in May, and the suit was officially over earlier this month.

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©2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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