Monday, June 20, 2011

Department of Corrections pays $415,000 to settle discrimination suit

On April 21, 2011, the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections agreed to pay $415,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former female instructor who worked at the Corrections Officer Training Academy in Sea Girt, New Jersey.

In her suit, Gina Marie DiPasquale, who served as a Senior Corrections Officer since 1996, said that after she began working as an instructor at the Sea Girt Academy in 2001, she "was subjected to harassment, retaliation and other discriminatory conduct on account of her sex and was forced to endure a work environment hostile to her and others."

As one example, she said that she complained in February 2002 about "sexually offensive cadences" used in training including one that included the phrase "don't let your ding dong dangle in the dirt."

In her complaint, DiPasquale alleged that her complaint fell on deaf ears and that she "renewed" those complaints when Craig Conway was hired as the new director of the the Academy in 2002. In a December 18, 2009 Appellate Division decision, Conway was described as "an openly gay man" who "allegedly created an inner-circle of good-looking, young male officers, including captains, lieutenants and sergeants who supervised plaintiff [and that Conway] allegedly gave preferential treatment and more favorable assignments to these men."

She said that she was discriminated after she complained, and that she was not allowed to instruct classes for which she was qualified. She said that Conway and others in management referred to her as "psycho-bitch" and other derogatory terms.

DiPasquale claimed that the campaign of harassment forced her to take a temporary disability leave in early 2003. While she was on leave, she was notified that upon her return, she would be reassigned to work in the prison in Trenton and not teach at the Academy. She claimed that the harassment escalated and became so severe that she was forced to resign.

The case is captioned DiPasquale v. State of New Jersey, Docket No. MER-L-228-05 and DiPasquale's attorney was Patricia A. Barasch of Moorestown. 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 DiPasquale's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $415,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Department of Corrections or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Department of Corrections or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DiPasquale $415,000 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.