Sunday, July 19, 2015

Belleville gives library worker promotion, back pay and $5,500 in attorney fees to settle her discrimination claim.

On June 29, 2015, the Township of Belleville (Essex County) and the Township's Library Board agreed to settle a library worker's discrimination lawsuit by promoting her and giving her a year's back pay and $5,500 in attorney fees.

In her suit, Angela Gionio-Kistner, a library monitor since 2011, said that her desire to be promoted to Library assistant as well as her pregnancy were discussed by the Library Board during a June 11, 2014 public board meeting altough the Board was allegedly required by the Open Public Meetings Act to discuss those matters in executive or closed session.  She claimed that the Library Board, because of her pregnancy and a desire to not pay for health insurance, wrongly decided to withhold her promotion.

The case is captioned Gionio-Kistner v. Belleville Public Library Board, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-6457-14 and Gionio-Kistner's attorney was Brian J. Aloia of Bloofield.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Gionio-Kistner's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $5,500 and back pay payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Belleville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Belleville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gionio-Kistner $5,500 and back pay 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.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Franklin Fire District pays $200,000 to settle employee harassment/retaliation claim.

On July 10, 2015 the Franklin Township (Somerset County) Fire District No. 1 agreed to pay $200,000 to its former administrative aide who sued the Fire District and three District officials for creating a hostile work environment because of her previously filed and settled lawsuit against the Fire District centering on conduct allegedly committed by former District Board Chairman Robert R. Scheer, Jr.

By way of background, the former Administrative Aid, Deborah Nelson, sued the District, Millstone Valley Fire Department, Scheer and Commissioners James Wickman, Joseph Danielsen and William H. Cullen III on November 19, 2009.  That lawsuit, bearing Docket No. SOM-L-2127-09, is on-line here.  That lawsuit settled in May 2011 with Nelson receiving a payment of $150,000 and Robert Scheer agreeing to resign as a Millstone Valley auxiliary member, not seek membership in a District No. 1 fire company, not to run for Commissioner ever again and not to attend District and fire company events where Nelson will be present.  The settlement agreement is online here.

In her more recent lawsuit, filed on February 14, 2013 and bearing Docket No. SOM-L-232-13, Nelson said that after she filed her first lawsuit (which alleged that Scheer had engaged in sexual harassing behavior and that Wickman, Danielsen and Cullen ignored her complaints about it), she "began to experience subtle harassment by certain Commissioners and members of the fire companies who were aligned with and sympathetic to Commissioner Scheer."  She claimed that the harassment intensified when Scheer's daughter-in-law, Melissa Kosensky-Scheer was elected as a Fire Commissioner.

Specifically, Nelson claimed that Commissioner Wickman asked her, during a public meeting, if she had an "emotional attachment" to the District office's paper shredder that was previously used to shred pornography that Scheer had allegedly printed out on the office printer. She also claimed that Louis Hajdu-Nemeth, who served as Board chairman in 2010, directed her to address her complaints solely to him but then refused to meet with her to discuss her complaints.  She complained, generally, of a "good old boy" network in the District.

Central to Nelson's complaint was the alleged conduct of Millstone Valley Fire Department Captain Douglas Walp.  Walp had allegedly made a "specific death threat" against Nelson on or about December 16, 2012.  Walp allegedly had said that "the bitch (Nelson) better watch her ass or I'll put a bullet in her head and burn the place (District Office) down."  (The disorderly persons complaints that contain the comments allegedly made by Walp are on-line here.  Those complaints were dismissed, with Nelson's agreement, on October 21, 2013.)  She claimed that Walp, who was suspended after the reported threat, came to at least one District meeting at which she was present.

The case is captioned Nelson v. Commissioners of Fire District No. 1, et al, Docket No. SOM-L-232-13 and Nelson's attorney was Gina Mendola Longarzo of Chatham.  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 Nelson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $200,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Franklin or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Franklin or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Nelson $200,000 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, July 1, 2015

Woodland Park secretly pays $257,500 to settle police false arrest suit.

On June 24, 2015, the Borough of Woodland Park (Passaic County) agreed to pay $257,500 to an African-American, married couple who sued members of the Woodland Park Police Department for assaulting, falsely arresting and hurling racial epithets at them.

In their suit, Michael and Robin McDuffie said that on February 10, 2010 they were shovelling snow off their driveway when Woodland Park Department of Public Works employee Jak Tripi, who was plowing snow from the McDuffie's street, angrily told them to stop throwing their shoveled snow into the street.  According to their lawsuit, Tripi said "You people are making my job hard" and "You black scum bags are throwing snow in the f***ing street!  You Mother F***ing N***ers; why are you here?!"

As the incident escalated, Tripi allegedly "punched Mrs. McDuffie on the left shoulder with a closed fist" and told the couple that he was going to get some gasoline, pour it on their property and "burn [their] black asses up."  Tripi, for reasons unexplained, allegedly called the Woodland Park Police Department, moved his truck in front of a neighbor's house and continued to hurl racial slurs at the couple.

According to the complaint, Police Chief Anthony J. Galietti, Sergeant Luigi C. DeLuca and Officers Renne (presumably Carlo Renne) and Erik M. Luker arrived at the scene and the two officers ran to the McDuffies' home with their weapons drawn.  Luker allegedly shoved Mr. McDuffie and grabbed Mrs. McDuffie's arm.  When Mrs. McDuffie told a family member to get a video camera, Luker allegedly "pepper sprayed [Mr. and Mrs. McDuffie] in the face and, forcibly handcuffed Mrs. McDuffie and pushed her into the police SUV."  Meanwhile, Renne allegedly chased Mr. McDuffie into the house and pulled him outside where he was also handcuffed.  According to the lawsuit, Luker punched Mr. McDuffie in the chest after he was handcuffed while Chief Galietti and Sergeant DeLuca watched but did not intervene.  Mr. McDuffie was put into a separate police SUV and the couple was driven to the police station and charged with aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

While at the police station, the McDuffies claimed to have been verbally abused by the officers.  Renne allegedly told them repeatedly that they didn't belong in Woodland Park and "should go back to Paterson." After they were released after six hours in custody, the McDuffies claimed that Luker called their home four times and then stopped by, in an attempt to intimidate them.

According to the lawsuit, a grand jury declined to indict the McDuffies and all the charges were dropped.  Also, the McDuffies claim that Sergeant John M. Uzzalino repeatedly refused to accept their Internal Affairs complaint against the officers.

The case is captioned Robin McDuffie, et al v. Borough of Woodland Park et al, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-01055 and the McDuffies' attorney was Robin Bernstein of Nutley.  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 the McDuffies' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $257,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Woodland Park or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Woodland Park or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the McDuffies $257,500 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.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Bergen County quietly pays $350,000 to settle police sergeant's whistle blower suit

On April 27, 2015, the County of Bergen agreed to pay $350,000 to a County Police sergeant who sued Police Department officials for allegedly retaliating against for exposing alleged illegal activity in the department.  $140,000 of the settlement amount went to the sergeant and $210,000 was to compensate his lawyer.

In his suit, Robert Carney, who previously headed the Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit, said that Police Chief Brian Higgins and Captain Uwe Malakas retaliated against him for complaining about a culture of cronyism that permitted officers to allegedly tamper with and steal evidence, illegally discharge firearms, falsify official reports and abuse sick time policies without fear of being disciplined.

He claimed that he was threatened when someone anonymously taped two live rounds of ammunition to his locker.  Other acts of alleged retaliation include being berated and cursed at, removal of commendation letters from his personnel file, demotion to patrol status and the taking away of his assigned patrol vehicle.

The case is captioned Carney v. Bergen County Police Department, et al, Docket No. BER-L-2753-12 and Carney's attorney was William A. Feldman of Fairfield.  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 Carney's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $350,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bergen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carney $350,000 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, June 3, 2015

Deptford pays $35,000 to settle police false arrest suit.

On March 2, 2015, the Township of Deptford (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $35,000 to a Wenonah man who sued members of the Deptford Police Department for allegedly arresting him for video recording police and for possession of "saltine cracker crumbs."

In his suit, John Cokos said that he was walking to Gloucester County College on November 10, 2011 carrying a video recorder.  He said that Deptford Township Police Officer Matthew Principato made an abrupt U-turn and asked him "what his intentions were with the video camera."  Cokos said that he didn't answer Principato's question and instead asked "whether he was charged with any offense, and, if not, . . . whether he was free to leave."

Principato allegedly ignored Cokos' inquiry and said that "the camera made [Cokos] look very suspicious" and that "there had been burglaries in the area."  Cokos said that he then asked Principato to have his supervisor come to the scene to "have the encounter witnessed."  Detective Edward Kiermeier, at Principato's request, later arrived at the scene.

According to Cokos, a "verbal and physical altercation ensued" after Cokos refused to obey Principato's and Kiermeier's command to turn off the video recorder.  Cokos said that he was "forced against a guardrail" while the officers searched him and his belongings.

He said that the "officers found saltine cracker crumbs in brown wax paper and asked [him] if it was crack cocaine."  Despite Cokos' denial that the crumbs were crack cocaine, the officers allegedly told him that he was under arrest for drug possession, handcuffed him and took him to the Deptford Police Station.

While lodged in a holding cell, Kiermeier allegedly approached Cokos and told him that "the supposed crack cocaine was, in fact, a piece of saltine cracker."  Police did, however, still charge Cokos with obstructing administration of law/governmental function.  Cokos said he was found not guilty of the charge on January 11, 2012.

Also named in the suit was Deptford Police Chief Daniel Murphy.

The case is captioned Cokos v. Deptford, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-06810 and Cokos's attorney was  Matthew B. Weisberg of Morton, Pennsylvania.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Cokos's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $35,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Deptford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Cokos $35,000 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, June 2, 2015

Peapack Gladstone secretly pays $51,000 to settle police officer's whistle blower lawsuit.

On May 28, 2015, the Borough of Peapack Gladstone (Somerset County) agreed to pay $51,000 to a formal Special II police officer who sued the Borough's mayor and council, attorney and police chief for retaliating against him for having complained about a fellow officer.

In his suit, Michael DiLullo, who was appointed as Special Police Officer, Class II in 2003 after having retired from the Somerset County Sheriff's Department, claimed that Officer Thomas Scanlon "hacked into" the Police Department's Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) and obtained a text message that DiLullo had sent to another officer.  The contents of DiLullo's text message caused DiLullo to be "suspended without pay from his duties for a period of time."

DiLullo said that his complaints to various Borough officials about Scanlon's allegedly improper use of the CJIS caused Scanlon to suffer no discipline except being "expressly barred from utilizing the CJIS system."   DiLullo claimed that he had, throughout his employment, been "criticized, harassed and demeaned [by Scanlon] as to his appearance and weight" and that this treatment "intensified" after he reported Scanlon's alleged improper use of the CJIS.  DiLullo claimed that his complaints fell on deaf ears, that his contract with the Borough was not renewed in 2011 and he was replaced by another person.

The case is captioned DiLullo v. Peapack Gladstone, Docket No. SOM-L-000018-12 and DiLullo's attorney was Richard M. De Luca of Somerville.  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 DiLullo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $51,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Peapack Gladstone or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Peapack Gladstone or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DiLullo $51,000 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.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Wildwood pays $29,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On May 27, 2015, the City of Wildwood (Cape May County) agreed to pay $29,000 to a Vineland man who sued members of the Wildwood Police Department for applying excessive force.

In his suit, Kenneth Carey said that on August 28, 2010 Wildwood Officer Andrew Grenaro "exercised unlawful and excessive force" upon him at 248 E. Schellenger Avenue.  Carey, whose lawsuit contains no specifics of his interaction with police, also claimed that Grenaro "unlawfully seized" him and discriminated against him "because of his race."

Also named in the suit was Wildwood Police Chief Steven Long who was dismissed from the lawsuit previously.

The case is captioned Carey v. Wildwood, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-01298 and Carey's attorney was Mark Pfeffer of Atlantic City.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Carey's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $29,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Wildwood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Wildwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carey $29,000 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.