Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bridgeton confidentially pays $142,500 to settle former employee's vaguely written "whistleblower" lawsuit.

On January 18, 2016, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $142,500 to settle a former female employee's lawsuit claiming that City officials violated her rights after she complained about discriminatory actions committed by the City's Business Administrator.

Teresa Delp's complaint is intentionally vague.  She claimed that her complaints against the Business Administrator led to a June 2013 meeting in the Mayor's conference room and that the Mayor, City Council President and City Solicitor attended.  Delp claimed that she walked out of the meeting believing that remedial action would be taken.

Relying on the agreements made at the meeting, Delp claimed that she withdrew her union membership and entered into a separation agreement with the City.  She claimed that the City Council then met and discussed her performance without giving her a Rice notice and forbade her from attending the meeting.  Unidentified City officials allegedly told her that if she attempted to attend the City Council meeting, "it would 'negatively' impact upon her."

Delp claimed that the City presented her with a writing that "vastly and materially" mischaracterized the agreements that had been made at her meeting with City officials. She claimed that the City's refusal to honor the previously made agreements was retaliatory and violated both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.

The case is captioned Delp v. City of Bridgeton, et al, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-342-14 and Delp's attorney was Richard M. Pescatore of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here.

Records on DataUniverse show that Delp retired in 2014 at a final salary of $134,186 from all her employers and is collecting a pension of $78,380 per year.

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 Delp's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Delp $142,500 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.