Monday, November 16, 2015

Manville paid $38,500 to secretly settle heavy equipment operator's discrimination and hostile work environment lawsuit.

On August 21, 2015, the Borough of Manville (Somerset County) agreed to pay $38,500 to a 38-year Department of Public Works employee who claimed that the Borough made him jump through hoops in order to return to work after a shoulder injury.

In his suit, Edwin Zygiel claimed that after recovering from a May 11, 2011 shoulder injury his ability to return to work was allegedly thwarted by Manville's preparation of a "new job task list."  Manville allegedly sent the new task list to Zygiel's physician, without Zygiel's knowledge, and asked the physician to reconsider his decision to let Zygiel return to work with full clearance.  Zygiel said that he first learned of the new list and the Borough's communication with his doctor during a May 10, 2012 meeting with Borough officials Gary Garwacke and Philip Petrone.  Zygiel claimed that Manville required him to get clearances from three different doctors when other employees needed clearance from only one.

The case is captioned Zygiel v. Borough of Manville et al, Somerset County Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-478-14 and Zygiel's attorney was William J. Courtney of Flemington.  The 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 Zygiel's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $38,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Manville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Manville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Zygiel $38,500 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.