Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cumberland Salem Conservation District pays $10,000 to settle employee's defamation and improper termination suit

On October 12, 2011, the Cumberland Salem Conservation District, located in Upper Deerfield Township in Cumberland County, agreed to pay $10,000 to a former employee who sued the District claiming that the District's Director defamed her and that the District fired her .

In her suit, Bridgeton resident Lisa Carll claimed that she was a 17 year employee who performed administrative work for the  Conservation District.  After her hours were cut back, she applied for partial unemployment benefits.  While receiving the benefits, she claims to have noticed that they were "inconsistent and inaccurate with respect to holidays and vacation days" so she deposited what she felt may have been overpayments "into a savings account and waited for the Division of Unemployment Compensation to correct any overpayment."

In November 2009, Carll claims that she was confronted by Conversation District Director Garry Timberman, who allegedly "accused [Carll] of improperly seeking unemployment benefits for her own benefit and use."  Thereafter, Carll claims to have contacted the Division of Unemployment Compensation, confirmed that she had been overpaid and then paid the overpaid amounts back to the Division.

Carll alleges that Timberman, despite knowing that the overpaid benefits were paid back, "published defamatory remarks accusing [her] of misappropriation or theft."  Based on Timberman's remarked, Carll claims that she was summoned into the District's January 26, 2010 executive session, without proper notice, and "summarily fired."

The case is captioned Carll v. Cumberland Salem Conservation District, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-67-11 and Carll's attorney was Theodore E. Baker of Bridgeton.  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 Carll's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Conservation District or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland Salem or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carll $10,000 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.