Thursday, June 20, 2013

Howell pays $125,000 to settle hostile work environment/wrongful discharge suit

On June 4, 2013, the Township of Howell (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $125,000 to a Waretown woman who sued the Howell Police Department for harassing her, creating a hostile work environment and constructively discharging her. In addition, Howell settled the woman's workers compensation claim for $25,000.

In her suit, Mary Lenahan, a 13-year Howell employee who served as a police dispatcher,  said that fellow dispatcher Christine Jakowski would undermine and make derogatory comments about Lenahan's competence.  Lenahan also accused Jakowski of making a racial comment and would "place several guns on her desk" for no other reason than to harass Lenahan.  She further alleges that her complaints resulted in a "bad faith investigation" and Jakowski retaliated against her.

The case is captioned Lenahan v. Howell Police Department, Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3456-11 and Lenahan's attorney was Gary S. Shapiro of Englishtown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Lenahan's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Howell or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Howell or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lenahan $125,000 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.