Monday, June 13, 2016

Gloucester County Fire District pays $45,000 to settle wrongful termination lawsuit.

On February 24, 2016, the Washington Township Fire District (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $45,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a fireman who claimed that he was improperly fired in 2014.

In his complaint, Glenn A. Rosenstiehl claimed that District Fire Chief Everett J. Hoffman brought administrative charges against him that were predicated on an on-duty accident where Rosenstiehl fell in the fire station's shower and suffered a concussion.  The suit claimed that the charges against Rosenstiehl involved "failing to report for duty, abusing family medical leave, and failing to communicate with the Washington Township Fire District medical provider."

The lawsuit alleged that John P. Jehl, who was designated to preside over Rosenstiehl's disciplinary hearing, and Jerry Lonabaugh, the Fire District's lawyer, refused to grant Rosenstiehl an adjournment that Rosenstiehl said he needed because the Fire District hadn't yet responded to his discovery demands.  According to the lawsuit, "the hearing was conducted in the absence of Rosenstiehl and Rosenstiehl's counsel, without any notice thereof."  The hearing resulted in Rosenstiehl being fired.

The suit received attention from the South Jersey Times on October 22, 2014. 

The case is captioned Rosenstiehl v. Washington Township Fire District, Gloucester County Superior Court Docket No. GLO-L-1434-14 and Rosenstiehl's attorney was Thomas A. Cushane of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement is marked "confidential" at the top, but no confidentiality clause appears in the agreement itself.  Even if a confidentiality clause was included, such clauses do not trump the public's rights under OPRA to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit'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 Washington or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rosenstiehl $45,000 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.