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.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Voorhees pays $195,000 to settle police lieutenant's lawsuit

On September 27, 2011, the Township of Voorhees (Camden County) agreed to pay $195,000 to a former Voorhees Police lieutenant who sued the Voorhees Police Department for allegedly retaliating against him for supporting a fellow lieutenant who had complained about and filed a whistler blower lawsuit against Voorhees Police Chief Keith Hummel, Deputy Chief John Prettyman and Lieutenant Louis Bordi. (On December 2, 2009, Slack's fellow lieutenant, Jeffrey Nardello and his lawyer settled the whistler blower lawsuit for $930,000. For more details click here.)

In his suit, Gerard Slack said that after Nardello filed a written complaint against his superiors in October 2000, Chief Hummel demanded to know who Nardello intended to call as witnesses to support the complaint. According to Slack, after Nardello filed his whistle blower suit and Hummel saw that Slack was listed as one of Nardello's witnesses, a campaign of harassment against him commenced. Hummel allegedly filed baseless disciplinary actions against Slack.

According to the lawsuit, Slack's problems with his superiors worsened after Slack reported Prettyman for arriving at a hostage scene "in full uniform with his weapon and township vehicle in an intoxicated state." Slack also alleges that he got in trouble for allegedly "meowing" at Patrolman Brian Bonsall during a shift change. There are many more allegations of harassment listed in the complaint, a copy of which is at the link below.

The case is captioned Slack v. Voorhees, Docket No. CAM-L-5659-09 and Slack's attorneys were F. Michael Daily, Jr. of Westmont and Clifford Van Syoc of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement agreement states that $125,000 of the settlement was paid to Slack while the remaining $70,000 was paid to Van Syoc.

None of Slack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $195,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Voorhees or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Voorhees or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Slack $195,000 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.