Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pennsauken confidentially pays $87,000 to resolve EMT's whistleblower lawsuit.

On May 17, 2016, the Township of Pennsauken (Camden County) agreed to pay $87,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who claimed that the chief of the Township's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) engaged in nepotism and secured employment for his wife, step-daughter and son-in-law. 

In his complaint, Dale Wescott said that EMS Chief Michael Coyle hired his wife, Debbie Coyle, to be in charge of medical billing "in spite of a contract with D&M billing."  Wescott claimed that Mrs. Coyle "works from home on a non-secure computer, does not use a time card, and receives a paycheck from EMS."

Wescott also claimed that Coyle hired his step-daughter, Kelly DiSanti, even though Civil Services rules prohibited her hiring.  Similarly, Westcott claimed that Coyle hired his son-in-law, Michael DiSanti, despite him being less qualified than other candidates and having been "formerly charged with violence in the workplace against a fellow employee." 

The lawsuit further claimed that Coyle let ambulances be dispatched "with blood stains, used needles under the seats, and no working oxygen" and allowed an employee to report for duty "in an impaired state."  Coyle also allegedly ordered that no blood or alcohol testing be done on an officer who drove an emergency vehicle to a hospital, "struck a parked car and fled the scene."

Wescott claimed that his complaints against Coyle were met with retaliation.  He claimed that he was suspended pending a fitness for duty exam but that the Township's psychologist found him fit for duty.  He said that his coworkers were openly discussing his suspension even though he was assured that it would remain confidential.

Also named in the suit is Township Administrator Edward Grochowski.

The case is captioned Wescott v. Township of Pennsauken, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-1101-14 and Wescott's attorney was Katherine D. Hartman of Moorestown.  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.

Of the settlement amount, Wescott receives $52,265.55 with the remainder going to his lawyer for costs and fees.

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 Pennsauken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wescott $87,000 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.