Saturday, April 8, 2017

Kean University paid out $375,000 to settle age discrimination suit.

On December 15, 2016, Kean University agreed to pay $375,000 to a 55-year old male employee who said he was let go because his supervisor wanted "new blood in the department."

In his suit, William DeGarcia, a 30-year employee of Kean University, claimed that he was not selected as Director of Kean's Educational Opportunity Center (EOC).  DeGarcia claimed that even though he had served as the EOC's interim director during the period when the EOC received praise from both Governor Chris Christie and Senator Robert Menendez, the Director position was given to employee named Rosa Perez who was under forty and had no prior executive experience.  DeGarcia said that his was only one example of pattern of age discrimination by Kean University.

Of the $375,000 DeGarcia received $260,367.41 and DeGarcia's lawyer received $114,632.59.

The case is captioned DeGarcia v. Kean University, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-1303-14 and DeGarcia's attorneys were Andrew M. Moskowitz of Springfield.  The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here(Note: The settlement may not be the final version.  According to a January 3, 2017 letter from Kean's attorney, which is included at the link above, there was a dispute over the effect the settlement might have on Mr. DeGarcia's pension benefits. All other aspects of the agreement, however, appear to be agreed to by both parties.)

None of DeGarcia's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $375,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Kean or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Kean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DeGarcia $375,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $50,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 25, 2016, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to to pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by two local residents and one of the resident's son that claimed that police falsely arrested and inflicted excessive force upon them during a motor vehicle stop.

In their suit, Sojay Mojica, Jean Precois and Precois' son Antonio Mojica claimed that on November 1, 2012 they were at a convenience store seeking to buy a container of gas.  After learning that the store was out of containers, Precois said he asked Elizabeth Officers William J. DiLollo and Louis P. Demondo for information and that a altercation broke out between Pecois and the two officers.  Precois claimed that after driving away from the altercation, his vehicle was later stopped by DiLollo and Demondo as well as officers with surnames Croban and Blanco.  The trio claimed that they were arrested when they ought to have issued a summons and that the officers used excessive force against them.

According to the settlements, Antonio Mojica and Sojay Mojica received $10,000 each and Jean Precois received $30,000.

The case is captioned Precios, et al v. William J. DiLollo, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-6279 and the trio's attorney was originally Michael S. Harwin of Fair Lawn.  Case documents are on-line here.  

None of the trio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court and settlement, without more, does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the trio $50,000 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, March 29, 2017

Bloomfield confidentially paid out $243,250 to resolve police excessive force lawsuit.

On November 17, 2015, the Township of Bloomfield (Essex County) agreed to pay $243,250 to a man who said that two township police officers assaulted him and that his ear "was practically ripped from his head."

In his complaint, Rodolfo Crespo said that after he was arrested after a March 5, 2013 traffic accident, he was assaulted at police headquarters by officers Orlando Trinidad and Jennifer P. Horn.  According to the complaint, Trinidad, in response to Crespo's request for assistance making a phone call, grabbed Crespo by the throat, threw him on the floor and placed his knee in the small of Crespo's back while he and Horn took turns punching him.  Crespo said that he suffered "head trauma, contusions and a right ear hematoma with a posterior laceration and cartilaginous disruption."  He also claimed to have a "thoracic spine fracture" and said that "his right ear . . . had to be sewn back on."

Crespo claimed that his was not an isolated case but part of a pervasive pattern of Bloomfield police applying excessive force.  A September 30, 2014 news report on Crespo's lawsuit referenced another lawsuit filed against Trinidad that arose out of an incident that resulted in official misconduct and other charges being filed against Trinidad and Officer Sean Courter.  A February 23, 2016 news article reported that both Trinidad and Courter were sentenced to five years in prison.  According to an April 10, 2015 article, Horn was promoted to detective.

Also named in the suit were Sergeant John Serchio, Lieutenant Michael Cofone, Chief Chris Goul and Captain Glen Wiegand who Crespo claimed conspired to cover up the incident. 

The case is captioned Crespo v. Township of Bloomfield, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-6533-14 and Crespo's attorney was Tracey C. Hinson of Princeton.  Case documents are on-line here.

The release contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents Crespo from disclosing "the amount or facts of settlement to any third persons."  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements or releases that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Crespo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Bloomfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Crespo $243,250 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Union City confidentially paid out $100,000 to resolve ICE agent's false arrest lawsuit.

On December 27, 2016, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Homeland Security Special Agent who claimed that he was arrested for questioning a woman who he believed was surveilling his apartment.  Mayor/State Senator Brian Stack, who allegedly became irate after the woman called him, came to the scene and reportedly screamed "I am the f**king Mayor! This is my city! F**k the feds!" several times.

In his complaint, Ricky Patel, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, said that on November 30, 2012 he observed a woman parked outside his residence "conducting what he thought was surveillance since the previous day."  He confronted the woman after learning that there was a note from the Union City Police Department on his windshield saying that his vehicle was "part of an ongoing investigation."

According to the complaint, the woman became combative when Patel questioned her and made a phone call at the same time Patel called Union City Police.  Patel said that he heard the woman make the call and say "Brian, that guy from the silver car is asking me why I'm parked here."  Soon thereafter, Stack arrived on the scene with two other men and reportedly "began screaming in [Patel's] face."  Patel said that he heard Stack on the phone saying "get the f**king Chief of Police down here."  When Captain Nichelle Luster arrived, Stack allegedly demanded that Patel be arrested for harassment and that his vehicle be impounded.

When questioned by Luster at the police station, Patel said that Luster was concerned that federal agents were "conducting an unsanctioned investigation against our mayor."  According to the complaint, Mayor Stack lived on the same street as Patel and an FBI corruption raid on City Hall occurred just two weeks prior.  Patel said that he didn't know that Stack lived on his street and that he refused Luster's request to search his apartment.  Patel said that he was released after other Union City officers vouched for his identity.

Patel claimed that shortly thereafter he received a notice from the State of New Jersey that his apartment was to be inspected.  He claimed that Stack used his position as a State Senator to arrange for the inspection.  He moved out of the apartment about a month later.

The case is captioned Patel v. City of Union City, et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-07398 and Patel's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here

The lawsuit received news coverage shortly after it was filed.

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 Patel's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Patel $100,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Point Pleasant Beach agrees to pay out $90,000 to settle former water billing clerk's retaliation lawsuit.

An undated and unsigned release recently disclosed by the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach (Ocean County) indicates that the Borough has agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a former borough employee's 2014 retaliation lawsuit against the Borough's administrator, deputy finance officer and tax clerk.  The suit, filed by the Borough's former water and sewer billing clerk, alleged that she was subjected to "a pervasive pattern of adverse employment actions" after reporting that another borough employee falsified water meter readings.

In her suit, Sandra Petersen, who is joined in the lawsuit by her husband Kenneth Petersen, claimed that after discovering in January 2012 that employee Gary McRae "had been falsifying and entering fictitious water meter readings which resulted in [Borough] residents being overbilled and/or under billed for their water/sewer usage," she made a report of her findings to Borough Administrator Christine Riehl and Deputy Finance Officer Kathy Beno.  She claimed that Beno laughed at her report and said "Oh, he's been doing that for years." 

Petersen claimed that she was ridiculed and ostracized by her co-workers and that Riehl, Beno and Tax Clerk Jennifer Coyne "spread vicious and false rumors about Plaintiff having an extramarital affair with the Superintendent of the Department, James Broyles, who had also reported" the alleged fictitious meter readings.  Petersen claimed that she was stripped of her duties, prevented from taking certification courses and was told by the borough clerk that Administrator Riehl "does not want you to advance here."  The lawsuit sets forth a litany Petersen's other claims including being forced to listen to racist and anti-Semitic jokes and being ridiculed for having to use the restroom.  She said that she was "effectively terminated" on May 31, 2013.  The lawsuit was reported by NJ Advance media on June 4, 2014.

The case is captioned Petersen v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, et al, Docket No. OCN-L-1404-14 and Petersen's attorney was Rosemarie Arnold of Fort Lee. Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Releases typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Point Pleasant Beach or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Petersen $90,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the release being signed, this rarely happens because the settlement terms have been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed released.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Elizabeth pays $60,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On February 28, 2017, the Elizabeth City Council (Union County) resolved to pay $60,000 to settle (see note below) a family's lawsuit that claimed that police inflicted excessive force upon them during a gathering of friends and family who came to mourn a family member's recent shooting death.

In their suit, Chantal Theodore, David Romilus and Jessica Theodore claimed that on June 13, 2008, friends and family gathered at the Theodore's family home to grieve the death of Chantel's son, Curtis, who had been shot and killed earlier that day.  According to the suit, Elizabeth Police Captain Tyrone Tourner, accompanied by a contingent of about twenty police officers, came to the house and ordered the mourners to vacate.  Chantal and Romilus claimed that when they objected to Tourner's order, they were arrested.

Chantal said that she was "grabbed by several officers, thrown against a fence, lifted off her feet, forcibly handcuffed" and arrested for resisting arrest and obstruction.  Romilus, who is Chantal's brother, claimed that Officer Edward J. Pinkevicz sprayed in him in the face with a chemical agent and arrested him for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.  Jessica, who is Chantal's daughter and Romilus' niece, said that when she ran outside barefoot, she "was almost immediately struck in the back of the head with a nightstick" and was arrested for aggravated assault and resisting arrest.  The trio claimed to have been kept in jail overnight and denied medical attention.

In a June 30, 2008 opinion, the Appellate Division found that Chantal was convicted in municipal court of the obstruction charge, Romilus of disorderly conduct and Jessica of simple assault and that all three convictions were upheld by the Union County Superior Court.  The Appellate Division, however, reversed Romilus' and Jessica's convictions but upheld Chantal's.  The Appellate Division's opinion also provides more context regarding the June 13, 2008 incident, including Tourner's testimony that police had received three complaints that "disorderly people" were at the Theodore residence and that some of the people gathered were sitting on cars in an adjacent restaurant parking lot drinking beer and littering.

The lawsuit also alleges that Officer Phillip McKenna had taken a photograph of Curtis' body after he was shot and circulated it among his fellow officers, friends and acquaintances.  McKenna and other officers named Turner, Pereira and Benenati allegedly assaulted Curtis nearly a year before his death causing him to receive a broken nose and front teeth.  Aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges brought against Curtis were allegedly dismissed.

The case is captioned Theodore, et al v. City of Elizabeth et al, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-0279 and the trio's attorney was originally Mitzy Galis-Menedez of Secaucus who is now a Hudson County Superior Court Judge.  Case documents are on-line here.   

None of the trio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court and settlement, without more, does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the trio $60,000 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.

(Note: It is presently unclear whether or not there might be another, separate settlement agreement pertaining to this lawsuit.  Another OPRA request was filed on March 13, 2017 and this article will be updated upon receipt.)

Update: According to Elizabeth's response to the OPRA request, there is no separate settlement.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Paulsboro paid out $300,000 to settle former Borough Administrator's "racially hostile work environment" lawsuit.

On June 28, 2016, the Borough of Paulsboro (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a retaliation lawsuit filed in 2015 by its former Borough Administrator.

In her suit, Leeann Ruggeri claimed that Mayor W. Jeffrey Hamilton and Council members Theodore D. Holloway II, Joe Kidd and Jennifer Turner created a racially hostile work environment for her.  She claimed that at least some of the four defendants supported hiring candidates based on their race rather than on their qualifications.  The lawsuit describes Ruggeri as "a non-Hispanic Caucasian female" and says that Hamilton, Holloway, Kidd and Turner are all African American.  According to the Borough's website, Hamilton and Turner no longer hold elected office in Paulsboro while Holloway and Kidd do. 

Ruggeri claimed that Holloway and other unnamed officials made public statements urging the hiring of African American employees over prospective employees of other races.  She claimed that after she interviewed seven candidates for a position in the water and sewer department, Mayor Hamilton and Councilman Kidd were displeased that her recommended candidate was not African American.  According to the suit, Ruggeri later learned that Kidd had promised the job to an African American individual who was not the best candidate. 

The lawsuit contains many other grievances, including a claim that Ruggeri was retaliated against after she blocked Mayor Hamilton's attempt to hire an unqualified relative of Councilman Kidd to fill a Borough position.  As another example, Ruggeri said that she was "evicted from her office" and that Kidd went so far as to try to get the local police to forcibly remove her from her office.

According to an August 15, 2015 NJ.com article, the Borough Council "voted along racial lines" to fire Ruggeri a few days after she filed her lawsuit. 

The case is captioned Ruggeri v. Borough of Paulsboro, et al, Docket No. GLO-L-1145-15 and Ruggeri's attorneys were Matthew S. Wolf and Marisa Hermanovich of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Paulsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ruggeri $300,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.