Thursday, March 15, 2012

Englewood Cliffs school board pays $20,000 to settle wrongful termination suit

On October 3, 2011, the Englewood Cliffs (Bergen County) Board of Education agreed to pay $20,000 to a former school custodian who had sued the school board for allegedly firing him because he became injured and sought workers compensation benefits.

In his suit, Henry Dudek of Harrison, who was hired as a school custodian in 2008, said that he was hurt on the job on March 2, 2009. He claims after he filed a workers compensation claim, Superintendent Dominick Mucci recommended that the school board fire him.

When he asked why he was fired, Dudek alleges that the reasons the Board proffered "were unsupported by [Dudek's] performance reviews and employment records." He asked for and received a hearing before the school board, but alleges that during the July 13, 2009 the Board "did not take an active part in the hearing [and] did not ask a single question to, or request any explanation of [Dudek]." Following the hearing, Dudek claims, the Board affirmed their earlier decision to not renew Dudek's employment contract. He further claims that the board revoked his workers compensation benefits after the July 13, 2009 hearing.

The case is captioned Dudek v. Englewood Cliffs Board of Education, Bergen County Superior Court Docket No. L-2008-10 and Dudek's attorney was Paul Piantino, III, Esq. of Paramus. 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 Dudek's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Englewood Cliffs school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dudek $20,000 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.