Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Peapack Gladstone secretly pays $51,000 to settle police officer's whistle blower lawsuit.

On May 28, 2015, the Borough of Peapack Gladstone (Somerset County) agreed to pay $51,000 to a formal Special II police officer who sued the Borough's mayor and council, attorney and police chief for retaliating against him for having complained about a fellow officer.

In his suit, Michael DiLullo, who was appointed as Special Police Officer, Class II in 2003 after having retired from the Somerset County Sheriff's Department, claimed that Officer Thomas Scanlon "hacked into" the Police Department's Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) and obtained a text message that DiLullo had sent to another officer.  The contents of DiLullo's text message caused DiLullo to be "suspended without pay from his duties for a period of time."

DiLullo said that his complaints to various Borough officials about Scanlon's allegedly improper use of the CJIS caused Scanlon to suffer no discipline except being "expressly barred from utilizing the CJIS system."   DiLullo claimed that he had, throughout his employment, been "criticized, harassed and demeaned [by Scanlon] as to his appearance and weight" and that this treatment "intensified" after he reported Scanlon's alleged improper use of the CJIS.  DiLullo claimed that his complaints fell on deaf ears, that his contract with the Borough was not renewed in 2011 and he was replaced by another person.

The case is captioned DiLullo v. Peapack Gladstone, Docket No. SOM-L-000018-12 and DiLullo's attorney was Richard M. De Luca of Somerville.  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 DiLullo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $51,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Peapack Gladstone or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Peapack Gladstone or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DiLullo $51,000 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.