Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Haddon confidentially pays $48,000 to settle policewoman's "whistleblower" suit.

On July 17, 2015, the Township of Haddon (Camden County) agreed to pay $48,000 to a female Township police officer who claimed retaliation after having questioned why a fellow officer had been paid in cash for a working a special detail.

In her suit, Denise Brodo claimed that in early 2013, while doing police payroll, she billed the Haddon Township Board of Education for a special detail that Officer Robert Preziosi had covered at Haddon Township High School.  In response, the school board wrote that Preziosi was paid in cash causing her to cease issuing a check in the same amount so Preziosi wouldn't be paid twice.

Finding a cash payment under these circumstances to be odd, she reported the matter to both Sergeant Sean Gooley and Personnel Director Betty Band.  When she asked Gooley "Why wouldn't you tell me, so that I wouldn't end up paying him twice?" Gooley allegedly falsely told her that Preziosi had worked a double detail.  After confronting Gooley with the an activity log showing that Preziosi had worked only one event, Gooley allegedly became enraged and starting shouting expletives. Brodo alleged that Band told her to not pay Preziosi while Supervisor Sergeant Scott Bishop told her that "[t]he money is getting paid back. Officer Preziosi is bringing a check to the school today. He is entitled to be paid."

According to Brodo, this payment dispute involving Preziosi caused favorable work assignments to be withheld from her.  She said that retaliation also motivated a May 1, 2013 five day unpaid suspension.

The case is captioned Brodo v. Township of Haddon, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-3310-13 and Brodo'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 Brodo' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $48,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Haddon or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Haddon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brodo $48,000 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.