Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Port Authority secretly pays $271,000 to settle wrongful termination suit.

On June 12, 2012, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed to pay $271,000 to a former employee who claimed that she was pushed out of her job by Governor Chris Christie's office because of "her lack of affiliation with the Republican Party."

In her suit, Hannah Shostack claimed that on August 11, 2010, eight months after Christie took office, her supervisor, Cruz Russell, "informed her that the decision to discharge her came straight from Governor Christie's office and there was nothing he could do to save her job."  According to a January 29, 2012 NorthJersey.com article "Dozens of Port Authority jobs go to Christie loyalists," Christie recommended fifty contributors, campaign workers and their families to the Authority for employment. A Princeton University Professor who has studied the Authority was as saying that "the Christie administration looks like it has made more of an effort to try to reward people who have been useful to him and his associates," an accusation that Christie has denied.

The reason it took so long for this settlement agreement to come to light is explained on NJ Open Government Notes.

The case is captioned Shostack v. Township of Port Authority et al, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00177 and Shostack's attorney was Daniel S. Sweetser of Lawrenceville.  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 Shostack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $271,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Port Authority or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Port Authority or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shostack $271,000 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.