Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pohatcong pays $15,000 to settle New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) suit

On November 26, 2012, the Township of Pohatcong (Warren County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a former Pohatcong Municipal Court employee who said he was harassed because he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD").

In his suit, Christopher Pugliese said that his boss, Court Administrator Cyndi Lehr, despite knowing of his ADHD diagnosis, "undertook a program of harassment against" him.  According to the complaint, Lehr, in May or June 2010, "began to become snippy, short and condescending against" Pugliese. 

He claims that Lehr "would make a habit of 'chatting' and performing other non-work related activities" near his work station which, due to his ADHD, "proved a significant distraction" to him.  When Pugliese complained, Lehr allegedly "laugh[ed] at [him] in a condescending way and simply continue the conduct."

According to the complaint, Lehr, in August 2010, told Pugliese "I hope you don't start using this ADHD bullshit as some kind of excuse. If I would have known it was going to be this big a deal, 1 never would have hired you."  Thereafter, according to the complaint, Lehr began to refer to Pugliese as her "dumbass deputy."

Ultimately, Pugliese said that the Township Council, as Lehr's "cat's paw," refused to renew his contract thus ending his employment on or about July 19, 2011.

The case is captioned Pugliese v. Pohatcong, Warren County Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-386-11 and Pugliese's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 Pugliese's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pohatcong or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pohatcong or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pugliese $15,000 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.