Friday, August 29, 2014

Bergen County school board pays $10,000 to secretly settle teacher's whistleblower and age discrimination suit.

On July 25, 2013, the Bergen County Board of Education and Bergen County Special Services agreed to pay $10,000 to a 61-year old former special education teacher who claimed that she was denied tenure because of her age and her complaints about a violent student.

In her suit, Anne Tremble of Westwood said since 2007, she had worked as a teacher of autistic 13 to 16 year olds who she described as "very aggressive children."  She alleged that she was particularly fearful on one male student "whose behavior escalated weekly, and who made direct threats of violence to Tremble and other employees."  She said that this student, who was eventually taken out of her class, "stated he was going to bring a gun or knife to school, and that he had access to such weapons from his mother's boyfriend who was a hunter."  The student allegedly told "a female classmate he hoped [Tremble] was raped and attacked."

Shortly after the student's removal from Tremble's classroom, she claims that "her contract was not being extended for the new school year, even though she would have received tenure if she had worked even one day into the new year."  She claims that "younger, non-tenured teachers" were given preference over her.

The case is captioned Tremble v. Bergen County, et al, Docket No. BER-L-3025-12 and Tremble's attorney was Gerald Jay Resnick of Roseland.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Tremble's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bergen County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Tremble $10,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Lacey school board pays $25,000 to secretly settle lawsuit by male employee who claimed discrimination and retaliation.

On May 13, 2014, the Lacey Township Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former employee who sued the school board for discriminating against him because of his gender and for retaliating against him for "disclosing or threatening to disclose illegal activity as a conscientious employee."

In his suit, Joseph Amaniera of Forked River, who was a food service worker at the Lacey Township High School, alleged that he "was not permitted to use an un-labeled restroom in the kitchen of the cafeteria because he was a male." Instead, he was allegedly "told he had to use the students facility in the hallways of the school or seek a janitor to open a faculty restroom."  After he complained the the school superintendent, he was allowed to use the kitchen restroom but, because of his complaint, "he was shunned by his co-workers and treated poorly . . . denied overtime [and] substitute work for the janitor."

Amaniera also claimed that there were "poor sanitary and soiled food conditions" at the cafeteria of which he took photographs and videos.  When he brought the video and photographs to the superintendent, he was allegedly "chastised" and fired two days later.

The case is captioned Amaniera v. Lacey Township Board of Education, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1155-12 and Amaniera's attorney was John P. Brennan of Avon-by-the-Sea.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Amaniera's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Lacey school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lacey or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Amaniera $25,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

West Milford pays $75,000 to settle volunteer firefighters' whistleblower suit

On June 14, 2014, the Township of West Milford (Passaic County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a pair of firefighters who alleged that they were retaliated against by Township and fire company officials.  The settlement also gave each firefighter the right to pursue volunteer membership in any but one fire company at any time after December 1, 2014.

In their suit, Thomas Simmons and Michael Hughes, both volunteers with West Milford's Community Volunteer Fire Company, said that they were harassed and improperly discharged from their volunteer positions after reporting various issues, such as the Department's Assistant Chief not having the proper qualifications, not having a written respiratory protection plan and not providing required "Right to Know Law" training. 

Prominent in the lawsuit is James Rose, who formerly served as the fire company treasurer and later became Assistant Chief while, according to Simmons, he was not properly qualified.  Simmons alleged that he replaced Rose as company treasurer at the request of Chief Robert Castro and President Randy Corsen who "were dissatisfied with Rose's performance as Treasurer and there was a suspicion of missing funds." 

In addition to Rose and Castro, the lawsuit also named Township Manager Kevin F. Boyle, Fire Commissioner Ed Steins, Community Fire Captain Matthew Adragna, Community Fire Lieutenant and Secretary Michael McFarlane and Carla Castro, who served as secretary to Chief Castro.

The case is captioned Simmons and Hughes v. West Milford, Passaic County Superior Court Docket No. PAS-L-2632-12 and Simmons' and Hughes's attorney was Paul Lomberg of Hackensack.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Simmons' or Hughes's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by West Milford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that West Milford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Simmons and Hughes $75,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Waterford secretly pays $260,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On July 21, 2014, the insurer for two Waterford (Camden County) police officers agreed to pay $260,000 to a father and his parents who sued them for alleged harassment, unlawful arrest and use of excessive force.

In their separate suits, Tracey Miller and his parents Ronald and Lavina Miller said that Waterford Police Sergeant Joseph McNally is a "very close friend" of Thomas Watson, who is the father of Tracey's ex-wife Jennifer Miller.  According to the complaints, the divorce between Tracey and Jennifer was "highly contested" and involved a domestic violence complaint and custody of the couple's child. 

According to the parents' complaint, "[e]very time that an issue arose with respect to this matter including the filing of a domestic violence complaint, Defendant, Sergeant McNally, a Waterford Township Police Officer, was involved in the investigation."  The complaints go on to say that the animosity that pitted the Watson family and the Waterford police against the Millers caused Tracey to be "constantly under surveillance."  The Millers, who all lived in the same house, claimed that Waterford Township Police Department, would frequently pass by Plaintiffs’ house, slow down as they approached their house and would stay there for several minutes in an attempt to harass and/or intimidate Mr. Miller and his family members, including the Plaintiffs."

According to the Millers, the police harassment graduated into physical violence.  One of three official encounters between the Millers and the police occurred on April 9, 2011.  The parents and their granddaughter were driving home and allegedly saw a police vehicle parked near their home.  The granddaughter called her father, Tracey, who was following behind them and told him to be "very careful" for they were "in fear for his life."  When Lavina asked one of the officers in the waiting car why the police were there, the officer, Timothy Lyons, reported said that Tracey was being stopped for “tinted windows”.

At this point, the complaints allege that Lyons beat Tracey severely while he was on the ground while his minor daughter was "crying and screaming hysterically for Officer Lyons to stop beating her father."  This allegedly provoked Lyons to swing his nightstick at the daughter and her grandparents. During this time, McNally allegedly took Lyon's place on top of Tracey's back and continued holding his face in the wood chips and . . . punching him in the left side of his face and head almost knocking him unconscious.  Lavina said that she went in the house to call 911 to get help from the State Police.  The 911 operator allegedly told her that the State Police would not respond because Waterford police were already there.

After finishing with the alleged beating of Tracey, Lyons then reportedly approached Tracey's father, who was then 69 years old and "suffers from many chronic disabilities."  Lyons allegedly "slam[ed] him violently on the concrete ground causing a phone to fly out of his hand."  (The father was allegedly on the line with 911.)  According to the complaint, this caused a "serious right shoulder fracture."  A few days after the incident, both Ronald and and Lavina said that they were called to the police station to be processed for various charged including resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer.  The Millers claim that the officers themselves are "under criminal investigation by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office."

On January 30, 2014, U. S. District Court Judge Joseph E. Irenas dismissed all the counts against Waterford Township and most of the counts against the individual police officers.  The only counts that survived the motions were civil rights and other tort claims against Lyons and McNally.

Also named in the suits were Waterford Police Officer Brent J. Staiger and Sergeant Richard J. Passarella,

The cases are captioned Miller v. Waterford, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-03405 and 1:11-cv-03578 and the Millers' attorney was Charles A. Fiore of Williamstown.  Both complaints, Judge Irenas' opinion and the settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the Millers' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $260,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Waterford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Waterford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Millers $260,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Winslow pays $42,500 to settle police excessive force suit

On February 23, 2013, the Township of Winslow (Camden County) agreed to pay $42,500 to a local man who sued members of the Winslow Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force upon him.

In his suit, Ronald Brown said that on September 18, 2008 he was sitting in parked car when Officer Sean Richards approached on a bicycle and ordered him to exit the vehicle and place his hands on the car.  He claimed that after he complied, Officer Richards handcuffed him and threw him on the ground.  Brown claimed that his injuries were serious enough to warrant a one-week stay in a jail infirmary.

Also named in the suit was Winslow Police Chief Anthony Bello.

The case is captioned Brown v. Winslow, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-04774 and Brown's attorney was Randy P. Catalano of Westmont.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Brown's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $42,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brown $42,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Jackson pays $25,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On July 2, 2013, the Township of Jackson (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to two brick men ($12,500 each) who sued members of the Jackson Police Department for allegedly beating them.

In their suit, Michael Acquaviva and Shane Panuska said that on March 2, 2011, Panuska was assaulted and asked Jackson Police Sergeant Donald Clark and officers Sean Greenberger and John Rodriguez why they were not pursuing his assailant.  Clark allegedly verbally abused him and then, along with Greenberger and Rodriguez, threw him on the ground, kicked him, handcuffed him and sprayed him with OC spray. 

Acquaviva, who was watching the incident, allegedly asked police if the amount of force being applied to Panuska "was necessary."  Acquaviva claimed that Officers Jeremy Felder, James Reynolds and Detective Michael Kelly then assaulted and arrested him with Felder punching him in the face.

Also named in the suit were Jackson Police Chief Matthew D. Kunz.

The case is captioned Acquaviva and Panuska v. Jackson, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-05992 and Acquaviva's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Acquaviva's or Panuska's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Jackson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Jackson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Acquaviva and Panuska $25,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gloucester Township pays $30,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On March 4, 2014, the Township of Gloucester (Camden County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a Gloucester City man who sued members of the Gloucester Police Department for allegedly purposefully dropping him, while handcuffed, causing his head to strike the pavement.

In his suit, Scott V. Dove said that on July 23, 2011, he and his wife were confronted by Officers Thomas J. Ritz and Timothy Ryan Kohlmyer while they were walking home from his brother's house.  Ritz allegedly ordered Dove to "drop what [he] was holding in his hand" and then handcuffed him.  It was at this point that Officers Benjamin Lewitt and Frank Pace, along with Ritz and Kohlmyer, allegedly threw Dove "against one of the patrol cars on the scene and smashed [his] head against same."  He claimed that the officers then threw him to the ground, beat him with closed fists and kicked him in the face.  The officer allegedly then picked him up to carry him to a patol car and "purposefully dropped" him causing his head to strike the pavement.  He claimed to have received several injuries including a "fractured left orbital socket."

The case is captioned Dove v. Gloucester Township, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-2934-13 and Dove's attorney was Adam S. Malamut of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Dove's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Gloucester or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dove $30,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.