Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kean University pays $75,000 to settle age/gender/race discrimination suit.

On September 23, 2015, Kean University agreed to pay $75,000 to African-American woman in her early 60's who alleged that her employment was terminated because of "her race, and/or age and/or gender."

In her suit, Sherrell S. Holderman, a 30-year employee of Kean University, claimed that she was laid off from her position of Director of the PASSPORT Program (this program services "a large percentage of academically under prepared athletes, as well as non-athletes) on February 28, 2011 despite having had more seniority than many others in her department.  She claimed that eleven other employees were laid off at the same time as her: ten were women, six were African-American, and of the six African-American employees who were laid-off, four were women.  She noted that two who were laid off were Hispanics and at least nine were over forty years of age.  She alleged that "not a single white male was among the 12 individuals laid-off."

The case is captioned Holderman v. Kean University and Dawood Y. Farahi, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-03120 and Holderman's attorneys were John T. Herbert and Kathy R. Perry of Englewood.  The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Holderman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Kean or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Kean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holderman $75,000 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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Atlantic City pays $30,000 to settle Moose Lodge bartender's police K-9 attack suit.

On October 16, 2015, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a Moose Lodge bartender who said that police wrongfully sicced a K-9 on her while she was sleeping in the lodge's banquet room.

In her suit, Kimberly Sharp claimed that after working the evening shift at the Moose Lodge on November 16, 2012, she decided to get some sleep on a table in the Lodge's banquet room. Sharp said that she did this because her home had suffered damage from Superstorm Sandy and didn't have heat or other utilities.

In the early morning hours of November 17, 2012, Police Officer Garry Stowe allegedly sicced his K-9 partner on Sharp as she was sleeping "tearing the flesh, muscles, ligaments and tendons, and severing the nerves and thereby causing severe and permanent injuries."

After a Moose Lodge supervisor told Stow that Sharp was not a trespasser, Stowe opted to file a criminal trespassing charge against Sharp as well as a charge for resisting arrest.  Sharp, who claimed that all charges were ultimately dismissed against her, said that Stowe brought the charges as "a subterfuge to conceal his use of indiscriminate, unnecessary and excessive use of force upon [Sharp]."

This is at least the third settlement involving Officer Stowe.  See the NJ Civil Settlements articles regarding a $160,000 payout on May 15, 2013 and one for $200,000 on April 30, 2014.

The case is captioned Sharp v. Atlantic City City, Federal Case No. 1:14-cv-04256 and Sharp's attorney was John F. X. Fenerty of Haddonfield.  The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Sharp's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 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 Sharp $30,000 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.

Lindenwold school board pays $40,000 to settle fired employee's Family and Medical Leave Act lawsuit.

On October 8, 2015, the Lindenwold Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a school custodian who claimed that the school board fired her in violation of her rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD).

In her suit, Colleen Pizzo, who suffers from clinical depression, alleged that her condition caused her physician to order her to take approximately three weeks of medical leave during March and April 2013.  Pizzo claimed that although the leave was qualified under the FMLA, the Board fired her based on its mistaken determination that Pizzo had exhausted her FMLA leave entitlement.

The case is captioned Pizzo v. Lindenwold Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-03633 and Pizzo's attorney was Richard S. Swartz of Cherry Hill.  The case documents are on-line here.

The agreement also calls for the Board, if contacted by Pizzo's future prospective employers, to provide a "neutral employment reference."

None of Pizzo'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 Lindenwold or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lindenwold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pizzo $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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bloomfield secretly pays $13,000 to settle police false arrest lawsuit.

On July 7, 2015, the Township of Bloomfield (Essex County) agreed to pay $13,000 to a local man who claimed that Bloomfield police falsely arrested him and conspired to violate his rights.

In the suit and the related tort claim notice, Joseph Scurese claimed that on July 8, 2012, he and his friend, Dave Pezza, went to a Dunkin Donuts to meet Bernadette R. Yates who wanted to buy Pezza's 2001 Buick.  According to the tort notice, Yates gave Pezza $1,000 in cash which Scurese put in his pocket.  Yates then because very angry when Pezza wanted her to go to the Motor Vehicle Commission to get license plates and a registration before he would release the Buick to her.  According to the notice, Yates screamed several times "I am the police" and that she didn't "give a f*** about Motor Vehicles."  (According to DataUniverse, a person named "Bernadette R. Yates" is a police officer for Middlesex County).  Update: 01/16/17: The same "Bernadette R. Yates" reflected in DataUniverse was transferred in March 2015 from the Middlesex County Sheriff's Department to the Elmwood Park (Passaic County) Police Department.)

Scurese claimed that the police who arrived at the confrontation told him that he should have just released the car to Yates.  During the encounter, an unidentified police sergeant, after seeing Yates's ID, took her aside and talked to her for ten minutes.  In police reports later received, the sergeant was identified as "G. Motsch" (presumably Eugene Motsch).

What happened after that is unclear, but it appears from the tort notice that the police a) told Pezza to "shut his mouth" when he tried to explain why he didn't release the car to Yates; b) handcuffed Pezza and put him in a patrol car; c) had Scurese give them the Buick's registration and insurance; d) wrote Scurese summonses for having no insurance, registration and for displaying ficticious plates; e) had Scurese give Yates her $1,000 back; f) arrested Scurese and held him under $20,000 bail for indictable theft and forgery charges.  The officer who signed the criminal complaints against Scurese was Fabian Rojas.  The only other police official mentioned by name in the filings is "Lieutenant Shirello" who is  presumably Lt. Richard C. Chiarello.

According to Scurese's filings, he was ultimately acquitted of all offenses.  He said that a citizens complaint that he filed against Yates never resolved because the Bloomfield Municipal Court wouldn't complete a probable cause hearing.

The case is captioned Scurese v. Township of Bloomfield et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-05728 and Scurese's attorney was Eldridge Hawkins of East Orange.  The case documents and the tort claim notice are on-line here and 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 Scureses' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $13,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bloomfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bloomfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Scurese $13,000 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.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Medford pays $30,000 to settle sexual harassment lawsuit.

On September 28, 2015, the Township of Medford (Burlington County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a woman who claimed that the Township's fire chief "smacked" her on the rear end.

In her suit, Lorie Cutts, an employee of the Township's Fire Division, said that in December 2012 Fire Chief Thomas Thorn "'smacked' [her] on her rear end" when she, Thorn and two firefighters were heading to lunch.  According to the lawsuit, Thorn drove Cutts and the two firefighters to lunch and afterwards Cutts "went to her office, shut her door and cried."

The case is captioned Cutts v. Township of Medford et al, Superior Court Docket No. BUR-L-1115-14 and Cutts's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the Cutts' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Medford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Medford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Cutts $30,000 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.

Bridgeton secretly pays $500,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On April 4, 2015, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $500,000 to a local couple who claimed that city police had used excessive force against the husband.

In the suit, Phillip A. DuBose claimed that on February 20, 2013 he was approached by police after he engaged in the "trivial conduct" of double-parking his truck on York Street and using his horn.  He claimed that when he tried to park legally, a police cruiser pulled up directly behind him blocking him from backing into the parking place.  After he parked in another parking spot he was given tickets for double-parking and "excessive use of horn."

DuBose admitted that he "momentarily lost him temper" when he realized how much the tickets would cost him.  In anger, he struck the steering wheel which caused "inadvertent contact" with the horn.

The officers ordered him out of his truck and, according to the complaint, attacked him and "used excessive force by punching and kicking [him], pulling his arms behind his shoulders; spraying him with mace, and forcing him, face down, onto the pavement."  After he was beaten, he claimed that one of the officers said "Look at your face now, wise guy."  He claimed that another officer turned off his body microphone before the assault so that it would not be recorded.  Further, he claimed that officers "took photos of Mr. DuBose for their own amusement."

He was taken to emergency room of the Bridgeton Health Center and then to Cooper Hospital in Camden. He claims that he was diagnosed with a "closed Head Injury; Orbital Fracture; Traumatic Iritis; Abrasion of Multiple Sites."  Separately, three Bridgeton Police Detectives were injured when they were involved in a car accident when responding to the scene.

DuBose's wife, Cheryl Dubose, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that Bridgeton officers taunted her when she went to the station to bail out her husband.  She said that Lieutenant J. Branch (presumably Jere A. Branch) said "Wanna see your husband, Missy?" and then held up a photo of her husband's bleeding face taken by the officers at the time of the arrest.

DuBose said that he was charged with disorderly conduct, aggravated assault of a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstructing law enforcement but that all of the charges were withdrawn by the County Prosecutor.

The officers named in the lawsuit are Richard Zanni, Angel Santiago, Joseph Camp, Nicholas Caprio, Joshua Soper and Miguel Martinez.  Also named are Chief Mark W. Ott and Lieutenant J. Branch.

The case is captioned DuBose v. City of Bridgeton et al, Federal Case No. 1:14-cv-0220 and Dubose's attorney was Richard H. Maurer of Philadelphia.  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 the DuBoses' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bridgeton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the DuBoses $500,000 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, October 22, 2015

Vineland High School security guard who posted "black thug" comment settles suit.

A security guard at Vineland High School (Cumberland County) who was fired for posting "Praying hard for the Philly cop shot today by another black thug" on her private Facebook page settled her free speech lawsuit against the school district.

According to a March 26, 2015 opinion authored by the the late Judge Joseph Irenas, Mary Czaplinski made the comment on her Facebook page on March 5, 2015 after she learned on the news that black assailants had shot and killed a black Philadelphia police officer.  The next day, she posted a photo of the slain officer with the caption  “This is what a hero looks like.”  Later the same day, she posted a comment that " there are thugs of every race" and expressed her dismay at "race cards being played all over the place."

After Vineland Superintendent Mary Gruccio and executive director of personnel Joseph Rossi were anonymously tipped off to Czaplinski's posts, she was placed on administrative leave and told to not report back to work until further notice.  She was terminated on March 13, 2015.

Czaplinski sued on March 23, 2015 and Judge Irenas denied her request for a prelimary injunction on March 26, 2015.

According to the Settlement Agreement, which was signed by Czaplinski on September 23, 2015 and by Board of Education President Scott English on October 14, 2015, Czaplinski's termination was reduced to a suspension without pay starting on March 27, 2015 and ending June 30, 2015.  She was reinstated to her position on July 1, 2015 to report to work at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year.  Czaplinski was, however, transferred to a pre-school or elementary school and was required to take sensitivity training.  The agreement is subject to approval by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.

Union County secretly pays $200,000 to settle inmate wrongful death suit.

On September 23, 2015, the County of Union agreed to pay $200,000 to the estate of a man who was killed while lodged in the Union County Jail.

In her suit, Diane McKernan, the mother of William Parisio, claimed that on February 17, 2014 jail officers "used excessive force in unnecessarily subduing [Parisio] thereby cutting off his airway and preventing him from breathing."  The lawsuit further alleged that jail officials "negligently failed to promptly recognize William Parisio was not breathing, failed to promptly call for medical assistance and failed to promptly institute resuscitative procedures."  Parisio died on the same day.

The settlement agreement settles the estate's claims against Union County, the jail and their officials and employees.  On July 29, 2015, the estate separately settled its claims against Correctional Health Services, Inc.  (CHC), a private corporation under contract with Union County that provides medical care to jail inmates.  Since CHC is private, its records are beyond the reach of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) making it impossible to force disclosure of how much money CHC paid to Parisio's estate.

The case is captioned McKernan v. County of Union et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-01675 and estate's attorney was Anthony J. Macri of Parsippany.  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 the estate's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $200,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the estate $200,000 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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Howell secretly pays $35,000 to settle police excessive force suit.


On October 8, 2015, the Township of Howell (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $35,000 to a local man who sued members of the Howell Police Department for allegedly assaulting him.

In his suit, Robert J. Oefelein said that on June 26, 2012, Corporal Fred Bauer and Patrolman Phillip Thompson arrived at his home to investigate a noise complaint.  Oefelein alleges that the two officers "entered the residence and assaulted [him] with excessive force and without justification."

The case is captioned Oefelein v. Township of Howell et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-03707 and Oefelein's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon 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 Oefelein's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $35,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Howell or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Howell or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Oefelein $35,000 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, October 20, 2015

Brick MUA secretly pays $250,000 to settle "whistleblower" suit.

On September 7, 2015, the Brick Township (Ocean County) Municipal Utility Authority (MUA) agreed to pay $250,000 to its former Director of Central Services who claimed that he was fired because he reported that a former MUA Chairman used his influence to move the MUA's bank accounts to a another bank in order to get a personal loan from the same bank.

According to his lawsuit and a May 7, 2015 opinion authored by Ocean County Superior Court Judge Robert E. Brenner, Scott Bundy said that he learned in 2010 that MUA Chairman Patrick Bottazzi was in financial trouble and was trying to get Crown Bank to give him a $1,500,000 loan.  After Bottazzi allegedly steered the MUA's accounts from TD Bank to Crown Bank in order to entice Crown to give him the loan, Bundy said that he reported the matter to the FBI. In addition to the FBI, Bundy claimed that he reported his suspicions to to the MUA auditor, Frank Holman, and Jerry Dasti, the MUA's attorney.

The MUA, however, claimed that its decision to transfer of some its accounts to Crown as well the as its decision to not renew Bundy's contract for Director of Central Services" were done purely for economic reasons."

Bundy's lawsuit claims that Bottazzi referred to him as a "rat" and stated "I hate your guts."  He claimed that "Bottazzi had struck a deal with fellow commissioner Joseph Veni, whereby Mr. Veni would remain as chairman, despite the fact that Mr. Bottazzi was expected to assume that role, and in exchange, plaintiff would be terminated."  Bundy claimed that another official told him that "Pat just traded the chairmanship for your head on a silver platter."

The case is captioned Scott Bundy v. Brick Township Municipal Utility Authority et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-2009-13 and the Bundys' 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 Bundy's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the
$250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Brick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Brick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bundy $250,000 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, October 1, 2015

Long Branch secretly pays $500,000 to settle "whistleblower" suit.

On September 21, 2015, the City of Long Branch (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $500,000 to its former Principal Personnel Clerk who claimed that City officials bullied, harassed and ultimately fired her for speaking to a newspaper and for reporting alleged financial impropriety by the City's Chief Financial Officer.

Plaintiff Julie Juliano Acerra's lawsuit has its roots in a November 23, 2003 New York Times article entitled "ON THE JOB; Foiling the Office Bully (With Sand in Your Face)." In that article, Acerra said that after having "enduring threats, foul language, ridicule and unfounded criticism" for five years from Chief Financial Officer Ron Mehlhorn, Sr. and others, "the bullies backed off" after she and her union documented the bullying and caused an internal investigation.

Unfortunately for Acerra, the respite was short-lived.  According to her lawsuit, the New York Times piece, along with Acerra's cooperation with law enforcement regarding an "Operation Bid Rig" investigation, sparked further hostility and retaliation against her.  Her lawsuit made various claims ranging from being followed while driving her car to having files taken from her office.

In 2007, Acerra said that she questioned Melhorn's receipt of what she approximated to be over $200,000 for cashing out over 400 accrued sick days and subsequently learned that Melhorn's office never deducted the 400 sick days from his account despite the pay out.  This caused Acerra, who "felt a serious crime had taken place" to contact law enforcement officials.  She claimed that she was later advised by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office that the matter was under investigation.

Acerra claimed she was fired on February 4, 2011 and that the firing was mischaracterized as a lay-off for "reasons of economy and efficiency.  She said she was replaced by a younger person.

The case is captioned Acerra, et al v. City of Long Branch et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-1761-11 and the Acerras' attorney was Richard J. Shaklee of McLaughlin Stauffer & Shaklee, PC in Wall.  Case documents are on-line here.  In November 2013, Long Branch offered Acerra $75,001 "exclusive of fees and costs" to settle her lawsuit. That offer was not accepted.

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 Acerra's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Long Branch or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Branch or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Acerra $500,000 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.