Saturday, February 6, 2016

Frenchtown confidentially pays $92,500 to resolve former police officer's wrongful termination and racial discrimination suit.

On March 26, 2015, the Borough of Frenchtown (Hunterdon County) agreed to pay $92,500 to an African-American police officer who claimed that his 2012 firing was motivated by racial discrimination.

In his amended complaint, Harold Johnson said that Police Chief Allan Kurylka called him "N****r and Motherf***er" and allegedly made a reference to Johnson getting him "some black pu**y" in front of ten other officers.  Johnson also accused Kurylka of saying that he needed a ebonics book to keep "up to date on Officer Johnson's slang."  He also claimed that Kurylka and Lieutenant Robert Winfield searched his personal property illegally and disciplined him for pretextual reasons.  According to Johnson, Kurylka's the Borough's racial animus resulted in a wrongful extension of his probationary period and his ultimate discharge.

The case is captioned Johnson v. Borough of Frenchtown, et al, Hunterdon County Superior Court Docket No. HNT-L-519-12 and Johnson's attorney was Kurt David Raatzs of Marlton.  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 Johnson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $92,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Frenchtown or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Frenchtown or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Johnson $92,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.