Sunday, July 17, 2016

Longport settles fired police officer's lawsuit by reinstating him and paying his attorney $60,000.

On April 18, 2016, the Borough of Longport (Atlantic County) agreed to reinstate a police officer to his position, pay the officer's attorney $60,000 and contribute $12,000 into the officer's pension fund.

In his lawsuit, Frank Lupperger said that he began working as a police officer for the Borough on May 20, 2013 and that his career went without incident until he was issued an April 25, 2014 Performance Notice that reprimanded him for "unintentionally damaging a windshield of a police cruiser with his cell phone."  He said that the Borough's act of firing him on May 21, 2014 and its attempt to extend his probationary period violated State law.

In the settlement agreement, the Borough agreed to reinstate Lupperger "as a police officer at Step #2" at $70,854.83 per year, contributed $12,000 to his pension fund and to pay $60,000 for Lupperger's attorney fees.  Lupperger agreed not to pursue back wages from May 21, 2014 through to his reinstatement date. 

The parties also agreed to change the April 24, 2014 Performance Notice to read as follows:
The performance notice of April 24, 2014 was based upon plaintiff's report to then Chief Vincent Pacentrilli that plaintiff had thrown his cellphone while in his patrol vehicle thereby cracking the windshield.

It is agreed that said performance notice should be amended to reflect that plaintiff initially indicated to fellow officers as well as in a written report that he had cracked the windshield accidentally with his police flashlight which plaintiff has acknowledged was not accurate or truthful.
The case is captioned Lupperger v. Borough of Longport, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-2658-14 and Lupperger's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Lupperger'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 Longport or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Lupperger than take the matter 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.