Monday, September 8, 2014

Bergen Community College pays $5,500 to secretly settle employee's defamation suit

On January 24, 2014, the Bergen Community College agreed to pay $5,500 to its former Public Safety Officer who sued college officials for allegedly defaming her in communications with a future employer.

In her suit, Laura Hofsommer said that a medical condition caused her to fall asleep during work hours while working as the Bergen Community College's Public Safety Officer.  She claimed that despite her attempts to explain her medical condition to College officials Marie Jardine and William Corcoran, she was terminated from her position in 2009.

Hofsommer further claimed that she received a job offer in 2012 to work as a dispatcher for the Ridgefield Park Police Department.  She claimed that Corcoran and Jardine "made comments and representations to" the Ridgefield Police regarding her employment at the college "that were untrue and/or, if said representations were truthful in nature, intentionally omitted and/or failed to provide all circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's termination of employment."

It is unclear from Hofsommer's complaint whether or not the comments Corcoran and Jardine allegedly made caused the Ridgefield Park Police to not hire her.

The case is captioned Hofsommer v. Bergen Community College, Bergen County Superior Court Docket No. BER-L-5390-12 and Hofsommer's attorney was Robert A. Tandy of Montvale.  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 Hofsommer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $5,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bergen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hofsommer $5,500 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.