Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kiss and tell: Plainfield confidentially pays $27,500 to resolve police officer's hostile workplace lawsuit.

On January 21, 2016, the City of Plainfield (Union County) filed a stipulation of dismissal with the court after agreeing to pay $27,500 to a police officer who said that he was subjected to retaliation after he reported a police lieutenant kissing a subordinate employee.

In his lawsuit, Andre Crawford, the local police union president, said that he "wrote up" Lieutenant Jeffrey Plum after he observed Plum on February 29, 2013 "kissing and otherwise acting unprofessionally and inappropriately with a subordinate, Melissa Howell" while off duty.  He claimed that after making his report, he was transferred, made to work holidays and became "the subject of ridicule by fellow officers."

In a separate suit, Plum claimed that on the same date, February 19, 2013, Crawford assaulted him by placing his arm around Plum's neck, pulling him into an office, yelling at him and not allowing him to leave.  He claims that after reporting this incident, Crawford make a "false report" concerning Plum which is probably the "kissing" report that Crawford alleged in his complaint.  (Plum's lawsuit appears to have recently settled and I have submitted an OPRA request for the settlement agreement and will post it upon receipt).

Plum was the subject of a 2014 settlement for $145,000.

Crawford's case is captioned Crawford v. City of Plainfield, et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3184-13 and Crawford's attorney was Lawrence N. Lavigne of Union.  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 Crawford'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 Plainfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Crawford $27,500 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.