Monday, September 24, 2012

Buena pays $375,000 to settle police officer's whistleblower suit

On December 15, 2009, the Borough of Buena (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $375,000 to a borough police officer who alleged that she was harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment after she had reported that a police sergeant was stealing taxpayer dollars by falsifying time sheets.

In her suit, Stacy L. Steudle said that in 2007, she became aware that Buena Police Sergeant Lawrence Petrillo "was falsifying time records by indicating that he had worked on days and/or during times when he had not worked."  She claims that after she reported the matter to Chief Douglas E. Adams, Adams communicated to Petrillo that "we have a rat." Steudle further alleges that Petrillo told her that Chief Adams had said that he was was "pissed" at her for starting "drama in the department." Thereafter, she claims that she was retaliated against and treated differently than other officers.

The case is captioned Steudle v. Buena, Atlantic County Superior Court, Docket No. L-833-08 and Steudle's attorney was Eileen Oakes Muskett of Atlantic City.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Steudle's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $375,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Buena or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Buena or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Steudle $375,000 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.