What to Know
- A NJ police officer is about to ship out on an overseas security detail, but now he's worried his family won't be taken care of financially
- Clifton has known for months that Michael Zigarelli had a six-month tour, but he got a letter saying he was not entitled to differential pay
- Zigarelli believes Clifton’s move is further retaliation for a federal lawsuit he filed against the city alleging military discrimination
39-year-old Michael Zigarelli, a Clifton police officer, got his military orders in March: Presidential, involuntary orders for an overseas security detail. In his 21 years as an Air Force Master Sergeant, Zigarelli has seen tours in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. He was activated for the mission in early June and prepared to ship out. That same week, his police paycheck was cut off.
The City of Clifton has known for months that Zigarelli would be called for a six-month tour. The letter he received from the personnel director said the officer had used up his 30 days paid leave for the calendar year. Zigarelli said he was unaware of any 30-day policy and that several dates Clifton claimed he’d been out for military training were inaccurate.
The letter further stated: “Our records do not indicate you have been deployed overseas which does not entitle you to differential pay.” For years, Clifton has paid the difference between officers’ higher salary and the lower military salary.
“It was out of the blue,” Zigarelli said. “I am on pre-deployment status. I am getting ready for the mission.”
The unexpected move by Clifton has created a severe financial hardship for the officer and his family. He has three little children.
“My last couple of weeks with the family have been ruined. I’m worried about this rather than spending time with them before I’m deployed,” he said.
“We count on that paycheck,” said Zigarelli’s wife, Tammy.
Zigarelli believes Clifton’s move is further retaliation for a federal lawsuit he filed against the city alleging military discrimination.
He and 16 other cops talked to the I-Team in March, saying they had been punished for their military service and pressured to choose.
The 17 officers received letters last November requiring them to account for years of military leave time or pay a financial penalty.
The City Manager later apologized and Clifton backed off.
“If they’ve changed the policy on military leave, show us the current policy,” said Patrick Toscano, Zigarelli’s attorney. “They have not responded.”
An attorney for Clifton, Domenick Carmagnola, told the I-Team in a statement: “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.”
He added, “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.
He declined to provide the I-team with the current military leave policy.
Zigarelli said he may get out of the Air Force after this tour. “It’s my passion, but I can’t put my wife and family through this anymore,” he said. “I don’t know what the police department will do next, and I can’t risk that.”