Police Sergeant Not Willing To Accept Ruling

OCEAN CITY – Apparently unsatisfied with the outcome of his case, an Ocean City Police Department sergeant last week filed an appeal in his civil suit against the town and its police department alleging he was bypassed for promotion to lieutenant when he was called into active service for the U.S. Coast Guard following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks.

In November 2008, OCPD Sgt. William Bunting filed a civil suit against the town and its police department alleging he was by-passed for promotion on two separate occasions because of his reserve status with the Coast Guard. Bunting, an OCPD officer since 1984, was called into active service as a reserve officer with the Coast Guard following the terrorist attacks and alleged in his complaint he was by-passed for promotion because of his military obligations.

Bunting alleged in the complaint he was denied promotion first in 2004 when he was serving as a reserve officer in the Coast Guard. He alleged he was bypassed again in 2005 and 2007 because of action he took to enforce his rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) for his perceived initial slight.

On Jan. 24, Senior U.S. District Court Judge William Nickerson dismissed the case, agreeing Bunting was not by-passed for promotion because of his Coast Guard reserve officer status, but rather because of his overall lack of qualifications and lingering questions surrounding his loyalty to Chief Bernadette DiPino. Four days after the ruling, Bunting’s attorney, Robin Cockey, formally filed an appeal, which will be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

According to Nickerson’s opinion, Bunting’s active Coast Guard status had little to do with the denied promotion. The judge pointed out in his opinion Bunting was not promoted because of DiPino’s lingering doubts, which predated the promotion process and went back to the time she was promoted to chief ahead of several candidates including the plaintiff’s brother.

“When the police chief who preceded Chief DiPino retired, Ocean City conducted a national search for his replacement,” the opinion reads. “Three members of the OCPD applied, including DiPino and the plaintiff’s brother, Victor Bunting. When DiPino was selected over Victor Bunting, the plaintiff was not happy with the decision and, in DiPino’s view, has openly demonstrated his disappointment with disloyalty to and disrespect for DiPino.”