CAPE MAY – A whistleblower lawsuit filed by a veteran lifeguard includes disturbing allegations about operations within the Cape May Beach Patrol, including the accusation that someone in a position of authority shouted “white power” in the presence of the patrol’s only Black lifeguard last summer.
Terry L. Randolph filed the suit Feb. 17, alleging he was wrongly passed over for promotion, free speech violations, cronyism within the department, and violations of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, described in the suit as the most far-reaching whistleblower protectionin the nation.
A lifeguard since 1981, Randolph alleges he was passed over for promotion because of personal reasons, and, in the suit, describes a long-running feud with former beach patrol Chief Harry Mogck, known in town as “Buzz.”
When Mogck retired last summer, Geoff Rife was tapped as the new chief. Randolph alleges that he was not considered for the job and was passed over for promotion, from lieutenant to captain, because of the animosity between him and Mogck.
The suit also alleges Rife verbally abused lifeguards with slurs related to sexual orientation and calling them “maggots,” and alleges that he decided assignments to stands based on the sexual orientation of one of the guards. He also alleges Rife shouted “white power” while raising his fist in June of 2020, while Black Lives Matter marches and protests continued in the area and around the country.
The lawsuit alleges that while Randolph was discussing the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Rife made the statement in front of the beach patrol lieutenants and the patrol’s only Black member.
Rife could not be contacted for comment.
His time was short as lifeguard chief. Cape May sources say he was removed from the position before the summer was out, with the city tapping veteran patrol member Harry Back to run the lifeguards for the rest of the season. City officials would not say why, but the change happened quietly.
The suit names Mogck and Rife, as well as former city manager, Jerome Inderwies, the beach patrol, and Cape May. Inderwies, who was replaced as manager by Michael Voll this year, but remains a city employee, could not be reached for commentMarch 1. City officials declined to respond to the allegations in the suit.
“We just got it,” said Mayor Zack Mullock. “I would assume no one’s going to talk about it from the city.”
He was a member of council last year but did not become mayor until this year. Mullock said he expected to get an update on the lawsuit at the March 2 City Council meeting, likely in a closed-door session because it involves active litigation.
City attorney Christopher Gillin-Schwartz said “the city is aware of the complaint. We reviewed the facts alleged but we’re not in a position to comment on pending litigation.”
The lawsuit alleges that Rife was fired Sept. 1, 2020, because of a complaint from Randolph, but Randolph was not then promoted to captain.
In the lawsuit, Randolph alleged a long feud between himself and Mogck, whom he described as close friends with Inderwies – using the term “drinking buddies” – and roommates with Rife, with Rife paying him rent for about 10 years.
Cape May’s top lifeguard was a captain for years. In a reorganization in 2017, the city created the new position of beach patrol chief, naming Mogck to it and promoting Rife to captain.
Randolph alleges Mogck created a hostile environment for him within the beach patrol, telling him, in 2017, that if he did not like it, he could retire, according to the lawsuit. Randolph allegesthat he was given the worst jobs, including scheduling, and was locked out of the office. Randolph was also made to look bad in a performance review, the suit alleges.
“Into 2018 and through 2020, plaintiff continued to be continuously harassed and intimidated by his supervisors by, among other things, asking all the other lieutenants at roll-call each day in front of 55 guards if they had anything to say, and yet would never call on plaintiff to speak,” reads the lawsuit. “These actions demeaned plaintiff on a daily basis, continuously, for many years. This caused plaintiff to be repeatedly humiliated, embarrassed, and demeaned in front of his peers.”
It further alleges that Mogck described himself as “at war” with Randolph and alienated him from coworkers. The suit states that Randolph lost sleep and suffered anxiety, as a result.
“As time went on, the hostility became so severe that plaintiff felt his only options were to continue enduring the harassment or quit his job. He continued enduring the harassment,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit requests a jury trial and seeks damages for lost income, attorney’s fees and compensation for emotional stress, anxiety, shame and more, as well as punitive damages. It was filed in Cape May County Superior Court by attorneys Phillip Burnham II and Michelle J. Douglass of Northfield.
A call to the law office was not immediately returned.
When he retired in June 2020, Mogck was described as a beloved figure in Cape May, one who brought multiple safety initiatives to the beach patrol and participated in countless rescues. Locally, officials lauded him when he retired. Before that, in 2012, the city named a beach in his honor, next to one named for longtime beach patrol Capt. Clete Cannone, who led the lifeguards from 1948 until 1980.
To contact Bill Barlow, email email@example.com.