Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Penns Grove pays $16,000 to settle case of alleged racial discrimination

On February 1, 2010, Penns Grove Borough (Salem County) agreed to pay $16,000 to its Public Works Supervisor who claimed that he was harassed and discriminated against by a member of the Borough Council.

The man, Vass Wiggins, who is Caucasian, complained that Councilwoman Carol Mincey, a black female assigned to oversee the Public Works Department, harassed him "on account of [Wiggins'] race and political affiliation." Specifically, Wiggins, in his January 2008 complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleged that Mincey has harassed him since 2004 and, despite him filing a harassment complaint against her that resulted in her transfer to another department, "she continued to harass [Wiggins] via telephone calls" and attempted to "undermine and question [his] authority with [his] subordinate employees." He further alleged to the EEOC that Mincey attempted to remove him from Public Works Supervisor because he lost his driver license, even though his position doesn't require him to possess a driver license.

After the EEOC was "unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes," it dismissed Wiggins' complaint on November 18, 2008. Shortly thereafter, Wiggins, through Attorney F. Michael Daily, Jr. of Westmont, sued Mincey and the Borough in federal court. (Wiggins v. Mincey, et al, Case No. 1:08-cv-06192). In the complaint, Wiggins made essentially the same allegations but added that Mincey "intentionally and maliciously" disclosed to his subordinates confidential information that Wiggins had applied to the Borough for a leave of absence so that he could obtain treatment for his alcoholism.

In support of his allegation that Mincey's actions were motivated by race, Wiggins claimed in his suit that Mincey refers to herself as the "Head N----- in Charge."

The EEOC complaint, the lawsuit and settlement paperwork are on-line here.

None of Wiggins's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Penns Grove or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Penns Grove and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Wiggins $16,000 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.