Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Accusations flew in Manchester in 2013. Now DPW head's suit partially settled for $115,000.
UPDATE: On August 4, 2016, Stephen Stanziano filed a Notice of Appeal from the trial court's dismissal of his claims that Manchester breached his employment agreement and wrongfully terminated him.
The last few years of Stephen Stanziano's employment as Manchester Township's (Ocean County) Public Works Director were contentious. In an April 9, 2013 letter, Stanziano's attorney accused: Business Administrator Elena Zsoldos, Township Clerk Sabina Skilbo and CFO Diane Lapp of regularly consuming alcohol during workday lunches, Zsoldos of purchasing two iPhones and a laptop computer for her son's personal use with Township funds, the then Mayor Michael Fressola's real estate broker son getting commissions on all the state mandated Affordable Housing sales in the Township as well as other instances of alleged nepotism and malfeasance. The fur flew the other way too, as evidenced by Zsoldos May 10, 2013 demand that Stanziano answer questions regarding his alleged "sexual encounter with a subordinate [DPW] employee [whose] spouse was later hired as a Department of Public Works employee" and whether Stanziano directed DPW employees to repair skylights at his parents' home.
The above-linked documents were among nearly two hundred pages of exhibits to Stanziano's complaint, amended complaint and his again-amended complaint. The lawsuits, which name Fressola, Zsoldos and the Township as defendants, claim that Zsoldos demeaned and humiliated Stanziano--who said that he had brain surgery in 1995--by rubbing his head in front of others and repeatedly saying that he was a "very sick man" who "needed help." He also claimed gender discrimination because he was the only male department head and that the female department heads got more paid days off and other perks. He also claimed that he was retaliated against because he blew the whistle on alleged official wrongdoing. According to his lawsuit, Fressola issued an August 26, 2013 notice that terminated Stanziano's employment effective September 17, 2013.
On June 1, 2016, Stanziano's lawyer, Ronald L. Lueddeke, wrote a letter that confirmed that in exchange for $115,000, Stanziano would dismiss his lawsuit, as well as a separate lawsuit, against the Township except that his wrongful termination and breach of employment agreement claims would remain active.
The case is captioned Stanziano v. Manchester Township, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1245-13 and Stanziano is being represented by Lynda Lee of Spring Lake as well as by Lueddeke.
None of Stanziano's or Zsoldos' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by anyone. All that is known for sure is that the Manchester Township or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Stanziano $115,000 to settle some of his claims rather than take those claims to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle 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 settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.