Thursday, August 21, 2014

West Milford pays $75,000 to settle volunteer firefighters' whistleblower suit

On June 14, 2014, the Township of West Milford (Passaic County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a pair of firefighters who alleged that they were retaliated against by Township and fire company officials.  The settlement also gave each firefighter the right to pursue volunteer membership in any but one fire company at any time after December 1, 2014.

In their suit, Thomas Simmons and Michael Hughes, both volunteers with West Milford's Community Volunteer Fire Company, said that they were harassed and improperly discharged from their volunteer positions after reporting various issues, such as the Department's Assistant Chief not having the proper qualifications, not having a written respiratory protection plan and not providing required "Right to Know Law" training. 

Prominent in the lawsuit is James Rose, who formerly served as the fire company treasurer and later became Assistant Chief while, according to Simmons, he was not properly qualified.  Simmons alleged that he replaced Rose as company treasurer at the request of Chief Robert Castro and President Randy Corsen who "were dissatisfied with Rose's performance as Treasurer and there was a suspicion of missing funds." 

In addition to Rose and Castro, the lawsuit also named Township Manager Kevin F. Boyle, Fire Commissioner Ed Steins, Community Fire Captain Matthew Adragna, Community Fire Lieutenant and Secretary Michael McFarlane and Carla Castro, who served as secretary to Chief Castro.

The case is captioned Simmons and Hughes v. West Milford, Passaic County Superior Court Docket No. PAS-L-2632-12 and Simmons' and Hughes's attorney was Paul Lomberg of Hackensack.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Simmons' or Hughes's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by West Milford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that West Milford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Simmons and Hughes $75,000 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.