Friday, July 21, 2017

Bridgeton Board of Education paid out $197,500 to settle former employee's whistleblower lawsuit.

On April 10, 2017, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $197,500 to a former teacher who said that her contract was not renewed after she complained that school officials would not help protect her from repeated physical assaults by students.

In her lawsuit, Michelle Andrews claimed that after she was assaulted by a student in January 2015, she filed a criminal complaint against the student and asked school officials "that the student who assaulted her be removed from her class so she would be protected from future violent acts."  Andrews claimed that her supervisors refused her request and told her to "put on her big girl pants and deal with it."  She claimed that she was again struck in the face by a student on March 18, 2015 when she was trying to break up a fight and was "body checked" by a female student shortly thereafter.  Andrews claimed that her supervisors did not write up or document the latter assault even though it was captured by a video camera.

After she formally complained to the Superintendent of Schools an offer to renew her contract was allegedly rescinded.  Andrews claimed that the non-renewal was done to retaliate against her for having complained.

The lawsuit was covered by the Daily Journal shortly after it was filed.  According to the article, the students who assaulted Andrews were sixth-graders.

As part of the settlement, the school board agreed to give a neutral job reference to Andrews' future employers.


The case is captioned Andrews v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Docket No. CUM-L-387-16 and Andrews' attorney was Richard M. Pescatore of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Andrews' 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 Bridgeton school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Andrews $197,500 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 30, 2017

Bridgeton confidentially paid $550,000 to settle sexual harassment claim.

On March 30, 2017, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) quietly agreed to pay $550,000 to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by five female employees of the City.

In their complaint, City employees Deena Bertolini, Veronica Cheeseman, Carolyn Dover, Deanne Laing, and Kelly Queen claimed that Officer Angel Santiago subjected them to "a plethora of unwanted sexual harassment" including scratching the tops of their breasts, showing them photos of his penis which he called "Captain Hook" and "acting like he was fixing something underneath their desks and subsequently pushing his penis on them after making them stand up out of their chairs."

The women claimed that when they reported Angel Santiago's conduct to his superiors, his twin brother Luis Santiago "undertook a campaign of retaliation" against them involving conduct such as making false reports against them, giving them dirty looks and refusing to let male officers cover for the women's calls.

A June 10, 2015 South Jersey Times article, which covered the filing of the women's lawsuit, quoted the women's lawyer as saying that Angel Santiago was suspended without pay in October 2013 as a result of the Cumberland County Prosecutor's investigation into the matter.  According to the Times article, the lawyer said that the City worked out a settlement with Angel Santiago before a disciplinary hearing took place.  In a separate matter, Angel Santiago was one of six officers named in a excessive force lawsuit that resulted in an April 4, 2015 settlement of $500,000.

Luis Santiago was suspended with pay on November 11, 2016 and then was suspended without pay on December 14, 2016.  The suspension came shortly after Luis was charged with sexual contact and harassment, according to a November 10, 2016 article in the Daily Journal.   It is presently unknown whether those charges have been resolved or whether the suspension has been lifted.

According to the June 10, 2015 Times article, "Both Santiago men were placed on administrative duty in 2012 after Angel Santiago was charged with simple assault for his involvement in a domestic violence incident and Luis Santiago had a harassment charge filed against him."  The article went onto state that Luis Santiago was on active duty at the time the article was written.

The case is captioned Bertolini, et al v. City of Bridgeton, et al, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-361-15 and the plaintiffs' attorney was Arthur J. Murray of Atlantic City.  It and the settlement are on-line here.

The release contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from "releas[ing] information regarding this incident and/or lawsuit and/or settlement including the nature and amount of settlement."  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 women'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 Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the women $550,000 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, June 9, 2017

Burlington Institute of Technology confidentially paid $65,000 to student who claimed that school officials did not remedy racial harassment.

On December 9, 2016, the Burlington County Institute of Technology (BCIT) quietly paid $65,000 to settle a former African-American student's lawsuit which claimed that he was repeatedly racially harassed by other students and that school officials took no corrective action.

In his suit, Venice Samuel, III of Willingboro, who was a minor at the time the suit was filed but an adult at the time it was settled, claimed that he suffered several incidents of racial harassment during his junior and senior years at the BCIT's Medford Campus.  Samuel claimed that he was repeatedly called a n****r during October 2012 by a student identified in the lawsuit only as "D.D."  He said that Assistant Principal Michael Parker failed to take any action after receiving Samuel's complaints.

Similarly, Samuel claimed that Principal Frank Ranelli and Assistant Principals Heidi Bouchard and Fred Aiken failed to take meaningful action after D.D. and four other students wore T-shirts with Confederate flags on them in November 2012 and a white student identified only as "A.P." spit a piece of gum at him in December 2012. Samuel and his mother claimed that when they reported the harassment to Superintendent Donald Lucas, Lucas also took no action and instead recommended that Samuel attend anger management classes.

Samuel claimed that the harassment continued through his senior year during which students would make "racist jokes in which African-Americans were the punchline" and which referred to African-Americans liking chicken and Kool-Aid.  Again, school officials allegedly took no meaningful action in response to Samuel's complaints.

The case is captioned V.S. v. Burlington Township Institute of Technology, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. BUR-L-2319-14 and Samuel's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 Samuel'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 BCIT or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Samuel $65,000 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, May 25, 2017

Galloway paid out $75,000 to resolve employee's retaliation claim.

On March 24, 2017, the Township of Galloway (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a former Township-employed truck driver who claimed that Township officials retaliated against him and ultimately fired him after he filed a worker's compensation claim for his second job-related injury. 

In his complaint, Frank Chamberlain, who began working for Galloway in 2004, said that he suffered two work-related injuries in 2010 and 2011, both of which caused him to file workers' compensation claims.  He alleged that after the second claim was filed, he received "several disciplinary notices" and that his evaluations became less favorable.  Chamberlain claimed that when he was meeting with Township Manager Arch Liston, he received a telephone call from his union representative which caused him to again be disciplined for unauthorized use of his cell phone.

He said that the Township's actions against him placed him under "economic duress" which caused him to settle the disciplinary matters by accepting a demotion from truck driver to maintenance employee.  He said that the new position required him to do "menial tasks such as cleaning the bathroom and mopping up the floors."

When Galloway decided to transfer all its Facilities Department workers to its Utilities Department, Chamberlain said that DPW Director Kevin McDowell indicated that he didn't want to transfer Chamberlain because he felt that he could not climb up ladders or crawl on the floor.  According to the lawsuit, Utilities Director Tim McKenna told Chamberlain that he didn't want to transfer him to his department "because he did not want old men with bad arms working for him."

Chamberlain said that he was terminated from Galloway on December 31, 2012.

The case is captioned Chamberlain v. Township of Galloway, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-6743-14 and Chamberlain's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Chamberlain'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 Galloway or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Chamberlain $75,000 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, May 24, 2017

ACUA confidentially paid out $70,000 to resolve racial discrimination lawsuit that alleged break room segregation, nooses, a swastika tattoo and Confederate flags.

On June 23, 2016, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) agreed to pay $70,000 to a Puerto Rican male employee who said that he was subjected to pervasive discrimination because of his race.  This is the second recent discrimination case against the ACUA that resulted in a settlement--Scott Henry's lawsuit settled for $97,500 on May 20, 2016.

In his complaint, Angel Rodriguez said that he was told when he was hired that the ACUA is "a little bit racist."  While working there, he allegedly experienced white workers receiving preferential treatment, two incidents where nooses were found in his and another minority worker's vehicles and white employees openly displaying Confederate flags on their personal vehicles.  He also alleged that one employee "display[ed] a tattoo of a swastika that is visible while in his ACUA uniform" and that he witnessed a conversation disparaging Mexican immigrants who "are always warming up their rice and beans."  An October 25, 2014 Press of Atlantic City article reported on both lawsuits.

Personally named as defendants in the lawsuit were ACUA President Richard Dovey and Rodriguez's direct supervisor Michael Burton.

The case is captioned Rodriguez v. Atlantic County Utilities Authority, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-2239-15 and Rodriguez's attorney was Lisa R. Marone of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here. Although the matter settled on June 23, 2016, the court was not notified of the settlement until March 13, 2017.

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 Rodriguez'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 ACUA or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rodriguez $70,000 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, May 12, 2017

Bridgeton confidentially paid out $90,000 to resolve part-time EMT's discrimination lawsuit.

On March 24, 2017, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $90,000 to a part-time Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who said that he was discriminated against and ultimately placed on the "do not call" list because his supervisors and co-workers "perceived [him] to be a homosexual male."

In his complaint, Donald Hymer, Jr. claimed to have been unlawfully fired from his part-time EMT position on May 29, 2015 and to have been discriminated against "because of his perceived sexual orientation."  He said that he was passed over for a permanent EMT job even though he had more seniority than any of the other interviewees. 

When he attended a March 3, 2015 interview for a full-time EMT position, Hymer said that he was ridiculed by his supervisor Tiffany Durham who heads the EMT unit for the Bridgeton Fire Department.  According to the complaint, Durham said to him, in the presence of the Bridgeton Fire Chief and other officers, "You need to watch who you hang out with! I saw pictures of you and [male friend] spooning on Facebook!"  Durham's quip allegedly caused the other interviewers "to laugh loudly at Mr. Hymer."

Hymer claimed to have been routinely called "faggot" and subjected to being mocked on social media by his coworkers.  He said that his schedule was changed to prevent him from working any more shifts and was placed on the "do not call" list.

The case is captioned Hymer v. City of Bridgeton, et al, Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-570-15 and Hymer's attorney was Zachary R. Wall of Haddonfield.  Case documents are on-line here.  As a condition for settlement, Hymer also agreed to resign as an EMT.

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 Hymer'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 Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hymer $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.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

ACUA confidentially paid out $97,500 to resolve racial discrimination lawsuit that alleged nooses and Confederate flags.

On May 20, 2016, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) agreed to pay $97,500 to an African-American male employee who said that two Caucasian co-workers "displayed Confederate flags in their vehicles" and that he found "a noose hanging from a chair in his work truck" in June 2015.  Although the matter settled on May 20, 2016, the court was not notified of the settlement until February 10, 2017.

In his complaint, Scott Henry said that his was the second time a noose had been left in the truck of an African-American worker.  According to the lawsuit, "the noose, used in spectacle lynching of African-Americans by white mobs in the years following the Civil War and well into the 20th Century, has become a powerful symbol of oppression and racism."  He claimed that management did not effectively address the matter and only briefly told employees "to stop joking around."

Henry claimed that the day after he found the noose in his truck a Caucasian employee asked him "How's it hanging?"  The lawsuit claims that the comment was "a clear reference to the noose."

An October 25, 2014 Press of Atlantic City article reports that few months after Henry's suit was filed another lawsuit was filed against the ACLU that complained about the noose and  Confederate flags as well as a swastika and "derogatory remarks about Mexican immigrants 'heating up their rice and beans.'"

The case is captioned Henry v. Atlantic County Utilities Authority, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-1872-15 and Henry's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 Henry'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 ACUA or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Henry $97,500 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.