Sunday, May 2, 2010

NJDOT pays $175,000 to settle racial/gender discrimination suit

On October 27, 2009, the New Jersey Department of Transportation agreed to pay $175,000 to a Burlington County woman who sued four officers and employees of the New Jersey Department of Transportation for attempting to prevent her from receiving a promotion. The Department officials and employees named in the suit all were white males: Malcolm Palmer, Regional Construction Engineer for Region South; Paul Hofmann, who was the woman's supervisor; William Mullowney, who was the woman's Supervising Engineer and Joseph Sacco, who was a Department employee.

In her suit, Marlene Lane, an African American woman, claimed that she was a model Department employee for 21 years and in 1999 sought a promotion to the position of Principal Engineer in the region that covered Burlington County. After qualifying for the position by passing a Civil Service examination, her name was put on the Civil Service list but she did not receive either of the two Principal Engineer positions that were open.

After allegedly learning from her supervisors that no more Principal Engineer positions were going to be offered in her region, she applied for and received a promotion to Principle Engineer in the Trenton region in March 2002. However, she alleges that within six months after taking the position in Trenton, "five vacancies for Principal Engineer were open" in the Burlington region, all of which were awarded to white males.

She alleges that in 2003 she applied for one of two Principal Engineer positions in the Burlington region and was interviewed by Hofmann and Mullowney. She claimed, however, that one of positions was given to Joe Paradise, a white male who was promised the position even though he had less seniority than Lane and was not on the list for the position. She further alleges that Hofmann and Mullowney "made effort to score [her] poorly" on the interview and accused her of being untruthful when she actually was being truthful. She claims that the two men "continued during such interview to undermine [her] resume and give her a low score so that the position could be given to a white male."

In December 2003, Lane filed a discrimination complaint with the Division of Civil Rights and attached to her lawsuit a December 20, 2004 letter from the Division concluding that the Department violated the State's policy on discrimination.

The case is captioned Lane v. New Jersey Department of Transportation, et al, Federal Case No. 1:05-cv-04727-JEI-JS and Lane's attorney was Miriam Benton Barish of Cherry Hill. After the federal case was dismissed at both parties' request, the case continued in the New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. CAM-L-1316-08. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Lane's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $175,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey Department of Transportation or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey Department of Transportation or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lane $175,000 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.