Thursday, April 23, 2015

Millstone pays $375,000 to settle two whistleblower lawsuits.

On March 4, 2015, the Township of Millstone (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $375,000 to two former Township Department of Public Works employees who claimed that they were fired after reporting other DPW employees' "unlawful conduct."

In separate lawsuits, Ronald Anderson and Mark Philpot said that that things went bad at the DPW after Jeffrey Hawk and Jack Guyette were hired.  Hawk allegedly boasted that he was then Mayor (now municipal council member) Nancy A. Grbelja's "boy" with whom he had a "close personal relationship." Each plaintiff settled for $187,500.

According to the complaints, Hawk, Guyette and a third employee, Ryan Elsbree, were shown "favoritism" such as being exempt from routine random drug testing.  The complaints allege that Hawk would fail to appear at assignments without telling anyone and smoked marijuana on the job.  Hawk also allegedly did personal chores for Grbelja during work hours and while using Township vehicles.

The cases are captioned Anderson v. Millstone et al, Docket No. MON-L-5222-11 and Philpot v. Millstone et al, Docket No. MON-L-5950-10 and both men's attorney was Stephan T. Mashal of Morganville.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Anderson's or Philpot'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 Millstone or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Millstone or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Anderson and Philpot $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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fire District secretly pays $50,000 to settle female firefighter's sexual harassment suit.

On September 5, 2014, the Franklin Township Fire District No. 3 (Somerset County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a former female volunteer firefighter who claimed that she was forced from her position because of pervasive sexual harassment.

According to her lawsuit, Courtney Jackson served as a volunteer at Community Fire (Station 25) from March 13, 2012 "until her retaliatory discharge on June 24, 2013."  Jackson said that then Assistant Chief Chris Calvo sexually harassed her by making an "obvious reference to her genitals" during an April 2013 conversation.  Jackson claimed that when she told Calvo that she was going to take an SCBA face piece "fit test," he told her that she was going to take a "different test" that he called a "triangle test . . . to see if the carpet matches the drapes."  According to Community's web site, Chris Calvo now serves as the Deputy Chief.

Jackson also claimed that Calvo repeatedly said that the Boston Marathon bombing perpetrator was a "light skinned, big tittied black girl" loud enough so that Jackson could hear it.  Jackson said that her letter to the Board of Fire Commissioners complaining about the harassment was not honored because it "was not properly formatted, and she had to rewrite it."  She further claims that Calvo said "I can't stand this f***ing bitch Courtney! This is what the world is coming to? I didn't like the bitch before, now I definitely don't like the bitch!"  She claimed that her application to become a full member of the fire department was ultimately denied because she was retaliated against.

Also named in the lawsuit was former Deputy Fire Chief Herman Calvo who, at the time of this writing, serves as Chief of the Department.

The case is captioned Courtney Jackson v. Franklin Community Volunteer Fire Department, et al, Docket No. MID-L-6111-13 and Jackson'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 Jackson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 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 Jackson $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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Atlantic City pays $160,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 15, 2013, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $160,000 to a local man who alleged that seven members of the Atlantic City Police Department pepper-sprayed and beat him when he tried to explain to them that another man they were assaulting in his kitchen suffered from schizophrenia.

In his suit, Jose A. Garcia-Hernandez claimed that on February 7, 2009, he was asleep in his room when he heard his landlord's son screaming and calling his name.  When he got out of bed and stepped into the kitchen, he said he saw four officers assaulting the landlord's son.  After trying to tell the officers that the son was schizophrenic, the officers allegedly told him to "shut up you f**king Hispanic."  When he told the officers that he was going to take down their names and report them, he claimed that the officer turned on him.  He said that Officers Henry White III, Darrin Lorady, J. Draper, Gary Stowe, Amir Hughes, Douglas Scogno and Jack Verseput pepper-sprayed him, threw him on the floor, stepped on his neck to hold him down and kicked him, stomped on him and punched him in the face.  He claimed that the officers then filed a report that gave a false version of the events.

The case is captioned Garcia-Hernandez v. Atlantic City, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-02743 and Garcia-Hernandez's attorney was Brian S. Chacker of Philadelphia.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Garcia-Hernandez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $160,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Garcia-Hernandez $160,000 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, April 2, 2015

Hillside school board pays $100,000 to settle reverse discrimination suit.

On August 21, 2014, the Hillside Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $100,000 to its former security chief who sued the Board, Superintendent Thomas M. Kane and Business Administrator Kenneth R. Weinheimer and all the individual Board members claiming that he was fired because he is a white male.

In his suit, John Young, who supervised sixteen school security officers, "15 of them [who] were non-white," said that he was told during a meeting by Zende Clark, the District's Head of Secondary Education, that "the security officers, most of whom were young African American males, were not comfortable with having a white boss, let alone a white boss who had prior law enforcement experience."

Young claimed that school officials didn't support him but instead caved to "officers and employee(s) [who had] voiced complaints about the Young, which were not based upon fact, but instead, they were based upon race with the intent of trying to get [school officials] to terminate [Young] because he is white."

Young said that he was ultimately terminated from his position on June 30, 2011 and was replaced by "a Non-White person, who is believed to be African-American."

The case is captioned Young v. Hillside Board of Education, et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-1275-13 and Young's attorney was Phillip B. Linder of Edison.  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 Young's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hillside or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hillside or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Young $100,000 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, March 31, 2015

Mantua pays $75,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On February 9, 2015, the Township of Mantua (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $75,000 to the estate of local man who alleged that members of the Mantua Police Department fractured his spine by knocking him down and then kicking him while he was laying on the ground.  (According to a South Jersey Times obituary the man died on May 27, 2013 at age 66.  Nothing suggests that the man's death was caused by his interaction with Mantua police.)

In his suit, the estate of Lindley Gallagher claimed that on January 19, 2012, Mantua Patrolman A. Hayes (presumably Arthur D. Hayes) knocked on the door of Gallagher's residence.  When Gallagher opened the door a "verbal dispute" allegedly occurred between him and Officer Hayes during which Hayes "became frustrated with [Gallagher], grabbed him and threw him to the ground."  While Gallagher was on the ground and being attended to by a neighbor, unnamed officer allegedly kicked him.  Gallagher claimed that the officers' actions caused him to suffer a "fractured cervical spine requiring spinal fusion surgery" that requiring him to spend months in a rehabilitation center.

Gallagher's complaint alleges that he filed an Internal Affairs complaint but that Mantua Police had not responded as of the date of the complaint.

Also named in the suit were Mantua Police Chief Rodney J. Sawyer.

The case is captioned Gallagher v. Mantua, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-01147 and Gallagher's attorney was Randy P. Catalano of Audubon.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Gallagher'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 Mantua or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Mantua or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gallagher $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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nutley secretly pays $40,000 to settle police officer's suit against Township and Mayor.

Alphonse Petracco
Mayor of Nutley
On October 14, 2014, the Township of Nutley (Essex County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a retired Township police officer who said that Township officials, particularly Mayor Alphonse Petracco, harassed and retaliated against him and ultimately left him with "no reasonable choice but to retire" in February 2013.

In his suit, Michael Patrick O'Halloran claimed that Petracco lived "above the law" by, for example, a) using the Nutley Fire Department's generators "to power his personal deli business during an extended power outage, when other facilities in town went without power;" b) signing and handing out PBA cards to his cronies; c) parking on the sidewalk in front of his deli and d) using police vehicles for personal use, such as for hunting trips to Mendham and to go to out-of-town parties.  O'Halloran also claimed that Commissioner Thomas J. Evans tried to force him to amend an accident report involving Evans' son.   O'Halloran claimed that when he objected to Petracco's conduct and reported him to the Essex County Prosecutor's office, Petracco retaliated by, for instance, interfering with his overtime pay and by taking adverse action against O'Halloran's mother, who was also a Township employee.

The case is captioned O'Halloran v. Nutley, Essex County Superior Court, Docket No. ESX-L-5246-13 and O'Halloran's attorney was Patrick P. Toscano of Caldwell.  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 O'Halloran's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Nutley or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Nutley or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay O'Halloran $40,000 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, March 23, 2015

Former Somerset Fire District chairman quietly settles defamation suit.

On June 26, 2014, Michael Gilliam, the former chairman of Franklin Township (Somerset County) Fire District No. 3 Board of Commissioners secretly settled his defamation lawsuit against several fire officials.

The agreement, under which Gilliam received $240,000, settled his claims against East Franklin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Daniel Krushinski and President Christopher Fischer, Community Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Ries and Board Chairman Herman Calvo and Fire Commissioner Douglas Krushinski.  Also named in but previously dismissed from Gilliam's lawsuit were the East Franklin and Community Departments and Fire District No. 3.

Gilliam's lawsuit, filed on March 30, 2011, claimed that fire officials made written and verbal statements that falsely portrayed him as someone who engages in unlawful sexual acts with minors.  According to Gilliam, these defamatory statements were made in retaliation for him, as a Fire Commissioner, subjecting the two fire departments to increased financial oversight.

The settlement agreement is on-line here and more information regarding Gilliam's lawsuit is on-line here.

Unfortunately, the Fire District's insurer, the American Alternative Insurance Corporation, refused to release the settlement agreement in response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request made in 2014.  This refusal required me and attorney Walter M. Luers of Clinton to file a lawsuit to force disclosure of the settlement agreementhere.
.  More information on that suit is on-line