Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Gloucester County Improvement Authority confidentially paid out $55,000 to settle kitchen worker's sexual harassment lawsuit.

On December 2, 2019, the Gloucester County Improvement Authority quietly agreed to pay $55,000 to a kitchen worker at the Authority's Shady Lane Child Development Center who had sued the Authority for sexual harassment and for maintaining a hostile work environment.  The alleged harassment included a supervisor presenting her "with a sexually-suggestive plate of food, featuring a hot dog protruding from the plate sitting between two round mounds of food suggestive of male genitalia."

In her lawsuit, Geraldine A. Miller, a food service worker at Shady Lane since October 2017, claimed that she was continually harassed by Robin Atkinson and other co-workers because she refused their invitations to go with them to bars and strip clubs after work.  She also accused Atkinson of making sexually-suggestive gestures in her presence and reporting her to supervisor Anthony Pepe for "not joining in."  Miller claimed that Pepe, in response to Atkinson's complaints, called her into his office once per week to tell her that "she needed to relax, fit in and have fun [and] that he wanted her to get along with her co-workers."  Miller said that she "understood this to mean Pepe wanted her to fall in line with the workplace behaviors about which she complained."

Miller claimed that she often complained to her supervisors about the harassment and that her complaints resulted in a mandate that all Shady Lane kitchen workers watch a sexual harassment video.  She alleged that her co-workers made jokes during the video and retaliated against her afterwards.  The lawsuit alleges that Atkinson "slammed down a 'slop bucket' on a pile of dishes [Miller] was washing, causing the slop to splash on [Miller's] person" and that other co-workers shouted "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." 

Miller claimed that on February 16, 2018, her supervisors told her that she was "paranoid and that she was being placed on paid administrative leave pending a mandatory mental health fitness-for-duty examination. 

Of the $55,000 settlement, $5,000 was for lost wages, $32,465 was for "alleged compensatory damages including alleged emotional injuries accompanied by medical treatment" and $17,535 was for attorney fees and costs.  The settlement agreement also called for the Authority to give Miller back 83 hours of sick time and 91 hours of vacation time.

The case is captioned Geraldine A. Miller v. Gloucester County Improvement Authority, Gloucester County Superior Court Docket No. GLO-L-376-18 and the six officers' attorney was Jacqueline M. Vigilante of Mullica Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.  A news story published when the lawsuit was filed is 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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  The Settlement agreement states that the $55,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pepe, Atkinson, the Authority or any of the Authority's officials and employees.  All that is known for sure is that the Authority or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay $55,000 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.

Friday, January 24, 2020

New Hanover school district paid out $70,000 to settle lawsuit filed by student who said nothing was done to prevent her from being physically assaulted and called "whitey" by other students.

On December 19, 2019, Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder approved a $70,000 settlement to resolve a female student's lawsuit against the New Hanover School District (Burlington County).  The girl, who enrolled in the school district as a third-grader in 2013 and is identified in the lawsuit only by her initials M.S., said that "she was forced to leave school and begin homeschooling in June of 2017" due to having endured years of physical assaults and being called "whitey," "white bitch" and "Lesbian" by her fellow students.  According to the suit, other students called her names, kicked her in the stomach, hit her in the face with a water bottle and a ball and threatened to beat her up.

M.S.'s mother, who joined her daughter as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, claimed that she notified Principal Scott Larkin several times about the abuse and even attended a meeting with Larkin and a State Trooper in February 2014 to no avail.  She said that she followed up with then Superintendent Dr. Cassandra Brown and even addressed the Board of Education at a public meeting but "nothing was done to stop the harassment, and the harassment continued."

According to the complaint, the abuse spilled over to the M.S.'s mother who claimed that she called the police in May 2017 when M.S., who then was a sixth-grader, was allegedly told by other students that the playground was "now a punching ground" and another student chased M.S. down the street.  According to the lawsuit, the mother of the alleged attacker came to M.S.'s mother's home and called her a "white bitch" and "white trash."  The alleged attacker then reportedly wrote a social media post that mocked M.S.'s mother for being afraid of her mother.

The lawsuit claimed that a teacher, Ms. Peterla, told M.S.'s mother in June 2017 that "If your daughter would just keep her mouth shut, we could avoid all these problems."  According to the lawsuit, M.S.'s mother took both M.S. and her younger sister out of school and homeschooled them.

The case is captioned M.S. v. New Hanover Township School, Docket No. BUR-L-548-18 and girl's attorney was Drake P. Bearden, Jr. of Mount Laurel.  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 the New Hanover school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay M.S. $70,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendant's 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.

Monday, January 20, 2020

New Lisbon Developmental Center paid out $150,000 to settle female worker's sexual harassment suit.

On October 14, 2019, the New Lisbon Developmental Center (NLDC), a State-operated facility in Burlington County treating women and men with intellectual and developmental disabilities, agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a female Cottage Training Technician who claimed that she was sexually harassed by a male coworker despite his reputation as a sexual harasser.

In her lawsuit, Shontrell Coleman, who had worked at NLDC since 2001, said that her problems began when Ralph Kardio, also a Cottage Training Technician, was assigned to Coleman's building in December 2016.  Coleman claimed that Kardio "almost immediately" subjected her to "unwelcomed sexual comments, advances and gestures." For example, Kardio allegedly took her phone to put his phone number in it, said that he "liked her (romantically)" and told her that "she can use him anyway she wants."

Coleman said that she complained about Kardio's behavior several times to Michael Scott, her night supervisor.  In February 2017, after her report to Scott, Kardio allegedly "cornered [Coleman] in the women's break room and told her that the only way she could leave was if she gave him a kiss."  Another worker reportedly walked in allowing Coleman to free herself.  When she again complained to Scott, Scott told her to take her complaint to his boss, Andrew Davis.  Davis, who Coleman alleged knew of Kardio's reputation, told her to report the matter to Hope Cheeks, who was Davis' boss.  Upon receipt of the complaint, Cheeks allegedly acknowledged that "this is his [Mr. Kardio's] reputation" and said that she would speak with him.

According to the lawsuit, Cheeks eventually called Coleman and told her that Kardio admitted to sexually harassing her but that she couldn't do anything more than "make Mr. Kardio work up front while Plaintiff was working or change his shift."  Cheeks, however, allegedly did not change Kardio's shift.

Coleman said that she then filed a complaint with New Jersey's internal Equal Employment Opportunity department.  Kardio was then moved to a building across the street from Coleman's. 

Coleman claimed that despite Kardio's move to another building, she still had to endure three months of sexual harassment from Kardio, who she said "had a lengthy reputation of sexually harassing women in the workplace and has sexually harassed women more than once while working with the State of New Jersey."  She said that instead of taking appropriate action, the State merely "shifted Mr. Kardio around from building to building so that he can sexually harass his next victim."

Of the $150,000 settlement amount, Coleman received $85,519.78 and her attorney received $64,480.22.

The case is captioned Coleman v. Buena Regional School District, et al, Federal Civil Case No. 1:17-cv-11773 and Coleman's attorney was Jeremy M. Cerutti of Bensalem, PA.  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 Kardio or any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the State of New Jersey, NLDC or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Coleman $150,000 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.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Buena Regional paid out $185,000 to settle secretary's hostile work environment lawsuit.

On May 6, 2019, the Buena Regional Board of Education (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $185,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a confidential secretary who claimed that the school district's business administrator gave a female employee in whom he had a sexual interest a $10,000 raise to be his secretary.  According to the suit,  the business administrator took the employee to the Tropicana in Atlantic City to have sex with her and also had sex with her in his office during school time.  It was further alleged that both the business administrator and the female employee bragged to the secretary about the intensity of their sexual encounters.

In her lawsuit, Phyllis Boehm, a secretary for Buena Regional, claimed that Business Administrator Pasquale Yacovelli gave a $10,000 raise to a secretary who worked "on a different side of the building" so that she would become his secretary and ultimately his lover.  Boehm claimed that the secretary, who is referred to in the lawsuit as "Jane Doe," was her friend and that Yacovelli asked her talk to Jane Doe about his interest in her.

According to Boehm, Yacovelli would say things to her such as "Hook a brother up" and make comments about Jane Doe's body "and say that he wanted her sexually."  Jane Doe was apparently not averse to Yacovelli's interest because, according to the complaint, when Yacovelli allegedly asked whether "it's a red light, green light or yellow light," Jane responded "Perhaps yellow light."

When Yacovelli asked Jane if she wanted to be his secretary, she reportedly "laughed and said, 'If you get me a $10,000 raise, I'll be your secretary.'"  According to the lawsuit, Jane became Yacovelli's secretary in September 2015 and Yacovelli "used his influence as Business Administrator to get Jane the ten thousand dollar raise she wanted."

Thereafter, according to the complaint, Yacovelli and Jane Doe would regularly "steal school time" to have sex in Yacovelli's office.  After one sexual encounter, Yacovelli allegedly "lifted one arm and pumped his fist" in Boehm's presence and said "I wrecked it, Philly."  The pair also reportedly went to the Tropicana in Atlantic City and the Holiday Inn Express on Route 322 to have sex.  According to the suit, Jane Doe told Boehm that Yacovelli was "a machine" and "would make comments about [his] sexual performance."

Boehm said that she "was very uncomfortable with the whole situation" and that Yacovelli's and Jane Doe's sexual activity and comments created "an environment that was hostile for women to work in [and] was in violation of [the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination]."

Before working for Buena Regional, Yacovelli served as business administrator for the Ocean City Board of Education until his October 7, 2014 resignation. Yacovelli also previously served as a member of the Audubon Board of Education.

The case is captioned Boehm v. Buena Regional School District, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-496-17 and Boehm's attorney was Leo B. Dubler of Mount Laurel.  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 Buena Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Boehm $185,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendant's 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.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Belleville paid out $235,000 to settle former court administrator's harassment and retaliation lawsuit.

On August 21, 2018, the Township of Belleville (Essex County) agreed to pay $235,000 and provide lifetime health benefits to settle a lawsuit filed by the Township's former court administrator who claimed that her co-workers created a sexually hostile workplace and that one of them "intentionally expose[d] her breast to [her] and excreted breast milk on her."

In her lawsuit, Cheryl Jeannette, a 30-year Township employee, said that Court Administrator Yara Acosta (Belleville's current court administrator is Yara Bossolt who may or may not be the same person) and Deputy Court Administrator Roberta Almeida "openly dated Belleville police officers" and "eagerly flaunted the intimate details of their sexual relationships" during work hours.  Jeannette claimed that Acosta's and Almeida's alleged relationships caused the Township to reward them with "preferential treatment, including selective enforcement of policies and promotions." 

After Almeida allegedly squirted her with breast milk in 2009, Jeannette claimed that Almeida was "hardly disciplined" for the act and was permitted "to serve her discipline at her convenience and, upon returning from her short suspension, transferred to the Code Enforcement Department and subsequently transferred back to the Municipal Court and promoted to Acting Deputy Court Administrator."  Similarly, Jeannette claimed that Acosta was afforded "special favoritism" when she was disciplined for allegedly conducting an improper background check on a co-worker.  According to the lawsuit, Acosta was "allowed . . . to serve this suspension with pay during her maternity leave in 2011, and promoted to Deputy Court Administrator upon her return."

Jeanette claimed that the Township administration retaliated against her for assisting in the investigations of Almeida and Acosta by reducing her salary.  When she complained about the "groundless salary reduction," then Township Manager Victor Canning told her that "if she were to continue voicing grievances to anyone, she would never be promoted to Municipal Court Administrator on a permanent basis."  Jeannette claimed that she kept her mouth shut and was later made the permanent Court Administrator.

Jeannette claimed that Almeida and Acosta refused to take direction from her, despite her supervisory role, and conducted a "campaign of hostility" toward her.  They called her a "'puta' which loosely translates to 'slut' or 'whore' in Spanish" and Almeida allegedly told Jeannette repeatedly that she was going to perform sexual acts on Jeanette's young son.

Jeannette claimed that on February 15, 2013, Almeida "filed a bogus complaint of racial discrimination and harassment against [her]" which resulted in then Township Manager Kevin M. Esposito filing formal charges against her after "he conducted a shoddy, one-sided, cursory investigation," according to the lawsuit.  Jeannette alleged that she was immediately suspended without pay.  Jeannette said that after a three-day hearing in February and March 2014, the Township's hearing officer sustained a charge of "conduct unbecoming" against her and recommended a 180-day suspension and a demotion.  The Township accepted the recommendation but increased her demotion to four levels below court administrator, according to the lawsuit.

Jeannette claimed that she resigned on September 2, 2014 "as she could not continue to work in the hostile environment created by Ms. Almeida and Ms. Acosta." 

The case is captioned Jeannette v. Township of Belleville, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-1245-15 and Jeannette's attorney was Gina Mendola Langarzo of Chatham.  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 Belleville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jeannette $235,000 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, December 12, 2018

Bedminster paid out $450,000 to suspended police officer and reinstated him retroactive to October 2, 2017 to settle his whistleblower lawsuit. For his part, the cop agreed to retire effective December 31, 2018.

On December 3, 2018, the Township of Bedminster (Somerset County) agreed to pay $450,000 to a police officer the Township Committee voted to suspend with pay on October 2, 2017.  Of the $450,000, $150,000 was paid by the Township and the other $300,000 was paid by the Township's insurance carrier.

In his lawsuit, John A. Dapkins, Jr., a 16-year veteran of the Bedminster Police Department, brought a litany of claims against the Township's police department and Sergeants Nanci Arraial and Chief Karl Rock.  According to his lawsuit, Dapkins, who said that he had extensive firearms training, claimed that he resigned his Firearms Instructor position after being "forced" to certify Arraial and two other officers as being proficient in Use of Force and Self-Defense "even though they were not capable of completing the standard."  Arraial allegedly became the Firearms Instructor in 2014, even though the then police chief knew "that she wasn't qualified to assume such duties," according to the lawsuit. Dapkins claimed that "Arraial was teaching the wrong instruction courses and was not qualified to do so."

Dapkins claimed that after his complaints to his supervisor, Chief Karl Rock, were ignored, he brought his complaints that "Arraial did fraudulently qualify multiple members of the Bedminster Police Department from 2014 to the Fall of 2016" to the Internal Affairs unit which referred them to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.  He said that the Prosecutor's Office validated his complaints by requiring the Police Department to requalify everyone.  According to Dapkins' lawsuit, "Arraial [received] overtime monies to complete the qualifications she improperly performed in the first place."

Dapkins also claimed that Rock told him "to go no further" pursuing the Department's alleged failure to complete the correct radar training "since it could void summonses, open the town to civil suits and bad press."  Dapkins further accused Arraial of slandering him by "describing untrue homosexual acts between [Dapkins] and Detective Sergeant Smith of the Bernardsville Police Department."  He claimed that Arraial repeatedly acted in a sexually hostile manner and once made "sexually explicit comments about [another officer's] penis" and replicated "a sexual act to Officer Greenstein in the presence of children from the Bedminster elementary school on a school-sponsored trip to Dorney Park, PA."

Dapkins claimed that after his repeated complaints were ignored by the chain of command, he went in mid-2016 to Township Administrator Judith Sullivan.  Going to Sullivan, he claimed, resulted in Rock issuing a retaliatory directive.  Many more allegations are recited in the lengthy lawsuit.

Also named in the lawsuit were Rock, Sergeant Francesco Bernardo and Robert Verry.  Verry, a former South Bound Brook Police Chief, was hired by the Township to conduct an investigation regarding internal affairs complaints filed against Dapkins.  Dapkins claimed that Verry "is a known friend of" Rock and that his report, which caused Dapkins' suspension, was "replete with innuendo, false statements, unsupported allegations, misrepresentations of fact, and . . . flagrant omissions" and "can be concluded to be the result of a conspiracy between" Verry and Township officials.  Verry filed a cross-claim against the Township and is presently seeking to recover his legal fees because "the Township wrongfully refused to defend" him from Dapkins' lawsuit.

As part of the settlement, Dapkins agreed not to disparage Bedminster or any of its officials and not to "seek any publicity or make any statement to the media" regarding this lawsuit except to say that "The matter was resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned."  The Township agreed to dismiss "any and all pending disciplinary charges against Dapkins."

According to a December 10, 2018 e-mail from Bedminster Clerk Judith A. Sullivan, Dapkins, who was hired by the Township on April 16, 2002, earned a 2018 salary of $114,002.38.

The case is captioned Dapkins v. Township of Bedminster et al, Somerset County Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-1298-16 and Dapkins was represented by Robert B. Woodruff of Scotch Plains. The lawsuit and settlement agreement 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 Bedminster and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay $450,000 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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Roseland confidentially paid out $325,000, made two promotions to settle police officers' whistleblower lawsuit.

On September 12, 2018, the Borough of Roseland (Essex County) quietly agreed to pay $110,000 to three of six officers who sued the Borough's police chief in 2014, to promote to lieutenant two sergeants who had sued and to pay the officers' attorney $215,000.  As part of the settlement deal, the two newly promoted lieutenants agreed to resign one year after their promotions.  One of the officers who sued, however, appears to have received no benefit from the settlement.

In their lawsuit, Sergeants Terry West and Charles Ribaudo, Officers Joseph LaPosta and Glenn Carnevale, retired officer Kevin Donaldson and former officer Freddie L. Mitchell, Jr. claimed that they suffered under Chief Richard McDonough and Captain Kevin Kitchin.  They claim that McDonough managed the police department through "fear and intimidation," showered favors upon officers "who obey[ed] his every whim" and continuously harassed and retaliated against those who questioned or disagreed with him.

Specifically, the six officers claimed that McDonough used on-duty police officers and vehicles to run personal errands for him, smoked cigarettes in the building in violation of state law, "engaged in a very questionable relationship with his administrative assistant [who] supposedly works from home and has been given a Department computer," allowed his friends to use Borough generators during Hurricane Sandy, fixed traffic and parking tickets, misled the public about the Borough's crime statistics, stopped or hindered investigations into alleged crimes committed by family members of political allies, registered his daughter's car in Florida even though she resided in New Jersey and housed his own personal dog on Borough property.

McDonough and Kitchin allegedly "utilize[d] Internal Affairs as a tool of terror, and to create paper trails of specious disciplinary claims against officers they do not like."  The six officers claimed that McDonough and Kitchin "subjected [them] to a continuing pattern of retaliation and discriminatory practices." Mitchell, who claimed to have been wrongfully terminated from the police department, further claimed that he was discriminated against "on the basis of race."

In their lawsuit, the six officers referred to McDonough as a "megalomaniacal despot" and to Kitchin as McDonough's "submissive minion [who] follows McDonough like a 'trained puppy.'"

As part of the settlement, the Borough agreed to promote West and Ribaudo to the rank of lieutenant provided that they both resign one year after the date they are promoted and to work the afternoon and overnight shifts.  The Borough also agreed to pay $325,000 in settlement funds apportioned as follows: $215,000 to the officers' attorney, $50,000 to Carnevale and $30,000 each to Donaldson and LaPosta.

The case is captioned Terry West, et al v. Borough of Roseland et al, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-7620-14 and the six officers' attorney was Patrick P. Toscano, Jr. of Caldwell. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.  A news story published when the lawsuit was filed is 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 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 Roseland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay $325,000 and promote the two sergeants 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.