Thursday, November 19, 2015

Keyport secretly pays $40,000 to settle hostile work environment suit.


On May 6, 2015, the Borough of Keyport (Monmouth County) agreed to pay a total of $40,000 to three Borough police officers who claimed that they were subjected to a hostile work environment by the Borough Administrator after they had arrested her for assault and other charges in the Borough's parking lot.  Additionally, one of the officers sought damages from the Administrator for the alleged assault.

In their suit, Shannon Hyman Torres, Joseph M. Rendina and Robert L. Aumack claimed that on December 10, 2012, Borough Administrator Lorene Wright hit Torres' unoccupied car in the Borough's parking lot.  Torres claimed that when she approached the scene, Wright "moved towards Torres and bumped, touched, pushed and accosted Torres without the consent or excuse to do so."  Torres, along with Rendina and Aumack who also participated in Wright's arrest, claimed that Wright and other Borough officials created a hostile work environment for them.  Specifically, they claimed that they were threatened with termination and that Wright had "flick[ed] lit cigarettes at" them.

Under the settlement agreement, Torres received $20,000 while Rendina and Aumack each received $10,000.

The case is captioned Torres, Rendina and Aumack v. Borough of Keyport et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-4876-13 and Torres', Rendina's and Aumack's attorney was Timothy D. Lyons of Freehold.  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 Torres', Rendina's and Aumack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Keyport or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Keyport or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Torres, Rendina and Aumack $40,000 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.