Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Asbury Park's 2011 settlement of sexual harassment claim against recently promoted Deputy Police Chief disclosed.

A May 2, 2014 article in the Asbury Park Press, "Asbury Park names new deputy police chief," reported on the city's 2011 out-of-court settlement that resolved a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by police officer Jessenia Davila-Vick against Deputy Chief (then Captain) Anthony Salerno.  According to the article, "[t]he amount of the settlement was not available immediately."  The article also contained Salerno's lawyer's contention that the “entire matter is the result of vindictive behavior of Jessenia Davila-Vick.”

Believing that is important for the public to know the amount of the settlement, I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and have placed the responsive documents on-line here.

The documents consist of a) Davila-Vick's April 28, 2006 lawsuit which sets forth the creepy behavior that Salerno was alleged to have engaged in; b) the Asbury Park City Council's September 14, 2011 resolution that authorized a $55,000 settlement amount and c) the settlement agreement under which Davila-Vick accepted $55,000 ($33,968.78 for her damages and $21,031.22 for her attorney fees) to settle both her civil lawsuit and workers compensation claim.  The agreement also provided for Davila-Vick to be reimbursed for 32 days of paid leave and assigned her to a position "that is not under the command of Anthony Salerno."

The agreement also called for all parties to "not divulge the contents" of the settlement agreement and to not "characterize the settlement of these matters as either a victory or defeat."  Fortunately, such confidentiality agreements do not defeat disclosure under the Open Public Records Act.




Thursday, April 23, 2015

Millstone pays $375,000 to settle two whistleblower lawsuits.

On March 4, 2015, the Township of Millstone (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $375,000 to two former Township Department of Public Works employees who claimed that they were fired after reporting other DPW employees' "unlawful conduct."

In separate lawsuits, Ronald Anderson and Mark Philpot said that that things went bad at the DPW after Jeffrey Hawk and Jack Guyette were hired.  Hawk allegedly boasted that he was then Mayor (now municipal council member) Nancy A. Grbelja's "boy" with whom he had a "close personal relationship." Each plaintiff settled for $187,500.

According to the complaints, Hawk, Guyette and a third employee, Ryan Elsbree, were shown "favoritism" such as being exempt from routine random drug testing.  The complaints allege that Hawk would fail to appear at assignments without telling anyone and smoked marijuana on the job.  Hawk also allegedly did personal chores for Grbelja during work hours and while using Township vehicles.

The cases are captioned Anderson v. Millstone et al, Docket No. MON-L-5222-11 and Philpot v. Millstone et al, Docket No. MON-L-5950-10 and both men's attorney was Stephan T. Mashal of Morganville.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Anderson's or Philpot's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $375,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Millstone or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Millstone or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Anderson and Philpot $375,000 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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fire District secretly pays $50,000 to settle female firefighter's sexual harassment suit.

On September 5, 2014, the Franklin Township Fire District No. 3 (Somerset County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a former female volunteer firefighter who claimed that she was forced from her position because of pervasive sexual harassment.

According to her lawsuit, Courtney Jackson served as a volunteer at Community Fire (Station 25) from March 13, 2012 "until her retaliatory discharge on June 24, 2013."  Jackson said that then Assistant Chief Chris Calvo sexually harassed her by making an "obvious reference to her genitals" during an April 2013 conversation.  Jackson claimed that when she told Calvo that she was going to take an SCBA face piece "fit test," he told her that she was going to take a "different test" that he called a "triangle test . . . to see if the carpet matches the drapes."  According to Community's web site, Chris Calvo now serves as the Deputy Chief.

Jackson also claimed that Calvo repeatedly said that the Boston Marathon bombing perpetrator was a "light skinned, big tittied black girl" loud enough so that Jackson could hear it.  Jackson said that her letter to the Board of Fire Commissioners complaining about the harassment was not honored because it "was not properly formatted, and she had to rewrite it."  She further claims that Calvo said "I can't stand this f***ing bitch Courtney! This is what the world is coming to? I didn't like the bitch before, now I definitely don't like the bitch!"  She claimed that her application to become a full member of the fire department was ultimately denied because she was retaliated against.

Also named in the lawsuit was former Deputy Fire Chief Herman Calvo who, at the time of this writing, serves as Chief of the Department.

The case is captioned Courtney Jackson v. Franklin Community Volunteer Fire Department, et al, Docket No. MID-L-6111-13 and Jackson's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. 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 Jackson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Franklin or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Franklin or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jackson $50,000 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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Atlantic City pays $160,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 15, 2013, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $160,000 to a local man who alleged that seven members of the Atlantic City Police Department pepper-sprayed and beat him when he tried to explain to them that another man they were assaulting in his kitchen suffered from schizophrenia.

In his suit, Jose A. Garcia-Hernandez claimed that on February 7, 2009, he was asleep in his room when he heard his landlord's son screaming and calling his name.  When he got out of bed and stepped into the kitchen, he said he saw four officers assaulting the landlord's son.  After trying to tell the officers that the son was schizophrenic, the officers allegedly told him to "shut up you f**king Hispanic."  When he told the officers that he was going to take down their names and report them, he claimed that the officer turned on him.  He said that Officers Henry White III, Darrin Lorady, J. Draper, Garry Stowe, Amir Hughes, Douglas Scogno and Jack Verseput pepper-sprayed him, threw him on the floor, stepped on his neck to hold him down and kicked him, stomped on him and punched him in the face.  He claimed that the officers then filed a report that gave a false version of the events.

The case is captioned Garcia-Hernandez v. Atlantic City, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-02743 and Garcia-Hernandez's attorney was Brian S. Chacker of Philadelphia.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Garcia-Hernandez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $160,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Garcia-Hernandez $160,000 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.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hillside school board pays $100,000 to settle reverse discrimination suit.

On August 21, 2014, the Hillside Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $100,000 to its former security chief who sued the Board, Superintendent Thomas M. Kane and Business Administrator Kenneth R. Weinheimer and all the individual Board members claiming that he was fired because he is a white male.

In his suit, John Young, who supervised sixteen school security officers, "15 of them [who] were non-white," said that he was told during a meeting by Zende Clark, the District's Head of Secondary Education, that "the security officers, most of whom were young African American males, were not comfortable with having a white boss, let alone a white boss who had prior law enforcement experience."

Young claimed that school officials didn't support him but instead caved to "officers and employee(s) [who had] voiced complaints about the Young, which were not based upon fact, but instead, they were based upon race with the intent of trying to get [school officials] to terminate [Young] because he is white."

Young said that he was ultimately terminated from his position on June 30, 2011 and was replaced by "a Non-White person, who is believed to be African-American."

The case is captioned Young v. Hillside Board of Education, et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-1275-13 and Young's attorney was Phillip B. Linder of Edison.  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 Young's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hillside or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hillside or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Young $100,000 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.