siren Credit: ArtOlympic/

An appeals court has reversed the dismissal of a former New Jersey police captain’s lawsuit claiming he was denied a promotion to police chief because of his affiliation and leadership roles in multiple police unions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled Friday that former Millburn Township police captain Michael Palardy was exercising his First Amendment right to association through his involvement in the unions, and that a New Jersey district judge was wrong to dismiss the suit on grounds that Palardy was not engaged in constitutionally protected activity.

To that end, the Third Circuit remanded the case so that the lower court could consider the merits of Palardy’s claim.

Palardy alleged the township’s business administrator, Timothy Gordon, was against promoting Palardy to chief because of his union memberships and for the perception that through that activity Palardy was too close to his subordinates.

On one occasion, according to Judge Eugene Siler’s opinion for the Third Circuit, Gordon said Palardy would never become chief “because of his union affiliation and being a thorn in my side for all these years.”

Seeing the “writing on the wall,” Palardy left the township after repeated attempts to gain a promotion and took a job as head of school district security. He subsequently filed suit against the township. It was cut down count by count and later dismissed in its entirety.

However, Siler said the district judge was wrong to toss the case.

“Palardy was a union member and leader, and he brought forth at least some evidence suggesting Gordon harbored animosity toward him because of his union affiliation,” Siler said. “The district court therefore erred by holding as a matter of law that Palardy did not establish the first element of his First Amendment retaliation claim—constitutionally protected conduct.”

He continued, “Because it found Palardy could not prevail on the first element, the court did not consider whether he created a genuine issue of material fact on the other two elements of his associational claim—whether defendants engaged in ‘retaliatory action sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his constitutional rights,’ and whether ‘a causal link [existed] between the constitutionally protected conduct and the retaliatory action.’”

Palardy is represented by Roseland lawyer Dennis A. Durkin, who did not respond to a request for comment. Nicholas Delgaudio of Ruderman, Horn & Esmerado in Springfield represents the township and did not respond to a request for comment.