Friday, July 29, 2016

Mount Olive Township confidentially paid out $60,000 to settle motorist's police false arrest and excessive force lawsuit.

On November 30, 2015, the Township of Mount Olive (Morris County) agreed to pay a Flanders man $60,000 to settle his claim that a Township police officer's conduct during a motor vehicle stop caused a Superior Court judge who reviewed the recording of the encounter to remark that she was "appalled by the conduct of the police in this tape" and that she found "it rather disturbing . . ."

In his lawsuit, Carl J. Granese said that on April 19, 2012, Officer Anthony Gardner stopped his car for a traffic violation.  Gardner allegedly asked Granese if he had smoked marijuana, inspected his eyelids and tongue and had him perform field sobriety tests. 

Gardner then asked for consent to search Granese's vehicle because he "perceived the odor of raw marijuana" in the vehicle.  Gardner reportedly became irritated when Granese did not consent to the search and called in a the Morris County K-9 Unit.  Gardner allegedly said he was "frustrated that [Granese] was wasting his time by refusing to consent to the search."

According to the complaint, no drugs or any other contraband were found in Granese's car but Gardner allegedly grabbed Granese, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him after Granese had used his cell phone after having received permission to do so by Sergeant Michael Novak.

Granese said that he was taken to the police station and booked for resisting arrest and obstruction of justice and was given traffic summonses for having an  expired license, failing to have a passenger mirror and making an unsafe lane change. 

Mount Olive Municipal Court Judge Brian Levine reportedly dismissed the resisting arrest charge but found Granese guilty on all the other charges.  On appeal, Superior Court Judge Mary Gibbons Whipple reportedly reversed the obstruction conviction.

The case is captioned Granese v. Gardner, Morris County Superior Court Docket No. MRS-L-2957-13 and Granese' attorney was John F. McDonnell of Washington.  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 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 Mount Olive or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Granese $60,000 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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pleasantville paid out $125,000 to settle policewoman's sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.

On April 29, 2016, the City of Pleasantville (Atlantic County) agreed to pay a female police officer $125,000 to settle her claim that she was retaliated against after reporting that a fellow officer rubbed his erect penis against her arm.  The settlement was made about two months after the policewoman's receipt of an award by the Pleasantville City Council for saving the life of a heart attack victim. 

In her lawsuit, Stacey L. Williams, said that she worked well with Officer Robert Wright as a school resource officer until "a series of personal problems" caused Wright to behave erratically.  Wright, who according to the lawsuit was immune from being disciplined by then Chief Duane Comeaux, "would come to work whenever he felt like coming in, would disappear for literally hours at a time in a city vehicle whenever he felt like it during the work day, and would leave for the balance of the day whenever he felt like it."

The penis-to-arm incident allegedly occurred on July 27, 2011 while Williams was seated at her desk in short sleeves.  More alleged sexual harassment followed, including Wright sending inappropriate texts and an incident in Boscov's department store where Wright allegedly told Williams that "he was going to throw her on a bed in the store and 'rape' her."

Williams said that she reported the harassment to Sergeant Richard Moore who in turn reported it to Chief Comeaux.  Afterwards, she said, Captain Melendez (presumably Rocky Melendez) with whom she previously had a very good relationship began to exhibit hostility toward her.  Melendez was allegedly very good friends and played golf with Wright.

She further alleged that she was transferred to work patrol on the midnight shift in retaliation for having reported Wright's alleged sexual misconduct.

The complaint contains other allegations of misconduct and an August 13, 2015 order and opinion by Superior Court Judge J. Christopher Gibson suggests that the Pleasantville Police Department had lost Moore's report of Wright's alleged misconduct.

The case is captioned Williams v. City of Pleasantville, et al, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-655-13 and Williams' attorney was Sebastian B. Ionno of Pitman.  According to the settlement agreement, Williams received $77,808.20 and her attorney received $47,191.80.

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 Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Williams $125,000 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.

Summit Board of Education to confidentially pay $47,500 to settle parents' IDEA lawsuit.

On July 22, 2016, the Summit Board of Education (Union County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $47,500 to be paid to the parents of a teenager who brought suit against the school district under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In their suit, the parents, who are identified only by their initials, claimed that the school district did not provide sufficient behavioral support services for their teenage son who "engaged in severe maladaptive behaviors."  The parents claim that although an Administrative Law Judge gave them the "full measure of substantive relief they sought," a federal lawsuit was needed to obtain "reimbursement of the attorneys' fees and costs of litigation expended in connection with the matter."

In the settlement agreement, "the Board denie[d] Plaintiffs were the prevailing party in the Administrative Matter and denies all liability to Plaintiffs" and noted that the $47,500 payment was desired by both the Board and its insurer to resolve the matter.

The case is captioned S.B and E.B. o/b/o J.B. v. Summit City Board of Education, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-0713 and the parents' attorney was Ira M. Fingles of Lawrenceville.  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 the parents' 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 Summit or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the parents $47,500 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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Board of Education, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Linwood paid out $400,000 to settle current police chief's and police captain's "whistleblower" and retaliation lawsuit.

On April 5, 2016, the City of Linwood (Atlantic County) agreed to pay a two police officials a total of $400,000 to resolve their whistleblower and retaliation lawsuit against the City.  Of the $400,000, each officer received $143,088.67 and their attorney received $113,822.66.

The lawsuit, filed by then Captain Douglas F. Carman and then Detective Sergeant John A. Hamilton, is long, rambling and difficult to follow.  According to press reports, Carman's and Hamilton's chief complaints were that then Police Chief James Baker retaliated against them because they refused to negotiate with the police union in a manner favorable to Baker and that Baker tried to get them and other officers to falsify deposition testimony to undercut a woman's estate's lawsuit against the City.

The lawsuit also argued that Lieutenant Colin Hickey was appointed as police chief in 2014 even though Carman said he was more qualified.  The lawsuit further alleged that Hickey was being investigated in 2014 by Internal Affairs for making "racially derogatory comments regarding a Hispanic Police Officer" and that Hickey had "acknowledged in a statement under oath that he signed firearm qualification records for former Chief Baker" that claimed that Baker had qualified with his weapon in 2007 when he actually had not.

According to an article in the Current, Carman became police chief and Hamilton became captain in April of 2015.

Also named in the suit are Linwood Mayor Richard L. DePamphilis, III, former Council member Donna Taylor and current Council member Ralph Paolone.

The case is captioned Carman and Hamilton v. City of Linwood, et al, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-343-14 and Carman's and Hamilton's attorney was Sabastian B. Ionno of Pitman.  Case documents are on-line here.

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 Linwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carman and Hamilton $400,000 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.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Willingboro Township confidentially paid out $75,000 to settle woman's police excessive force lawsuit.

On July 14, 2016, the Township of Willingboro (Burlington County) agreed to pay a local woman $75,000 to settle her claim that Township police officers assaulted her while she was trying to help her friend who was just involved in a car accident.

In her lawsuit, Nicole Davis said that on she was first to arrive on the scene of a January 13, 2012 auto accident and that she tried to get her friend Tiffany out of the car.  After Sergeant Richard Coupe, Officer Curtis Hankey and another unnamed officer arrived on the scene, Davis said that she asked for and received permission from them to remove Tiffany's purse that contained needed medicine from the car.  She said that despite receiving permission, Coupe grabbed from behind without warning while she was in the process of retrieving the purse.  She said that she was dragged from the car and repeatedly punched in the back of the head and neck by Coupe, Hankey and other other officer.  The trio then allegedly repeatedly slammed her head against the car window and then handcuffed her too tightly and ignored her pleas to loosen them.

The case is captioned Davis v. Township of Willingboro, et al, Federal Case No. 1:14-cv-00183 and Davis' attorney was Thomas Bruno II of Philadelphia.  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 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 Willingboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Davis $75,000 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.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Asbury Park school board confidentially paid out $50,000 to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit.

On or about July 6, 2016, the Asbury Park Board of Education (Monmouth County) quietly paid $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by former female employee who said that she was discriminated against and ultimately terminated due to her pregnancy.

In her suit, Denine Hasan, a former Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) Specialist for the Asbury Park High School, said that she received positive performance reviews until she reported to school officials that she was pregnant.  After that disclosure, Hasan said that she started receiving "critical e-mails" regarding the JAG's budget from Assistant Guidance Director Colleen White who served as the JAG coordinator.  White also allegedly assigned Hasan to the district's Alternative School in addition to the High School.  The Alternative School had many students who "had previously been removed from the High School for disciplinary/behavioral issues," according to filed papers.

After determining that her pregnancy was "high risk," Hasan's doctor wrote a notice to school officials asking that Hasan be "transferred out of the Alternative School because its large concentration of students with behavioral and disciplinary issues posed an increase risk to her already 'high risk' pregnancy."  Hasan said that she had previously lost four children due to miscarriages.  School officials allegedly denied her request but did agree that her office should be located on the first floor of her assigned building.

Hasan said that when she arrived to work at the beginning of the 2012-13 term, "the District failed to provide her with an office or a computer."  She further claimed that White and Principal Reginald Mirthil began to issue her undeserved reprimands while treating other employees differently.  She said that a complaint she filed with Walter Barrett, the District's Affirmative Action officer, was not investigated.  Hasan said that during her maternity leave she received notification that her contract would not be renewed.

The case is captioned Hasan v. Asbury Park Board of Education, et al, Federal Case No. 3:15-cv-0832 and Hasan's attorney was Robert M. Schwartz of Monroe.  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 Hasan'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 the Asbury Park school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hasan $50,000 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.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Clementon Borough paid out $75,000 to settle man's false arrest lawsuit.

On June 14, 2016, the Borough of Clementon (Camden County) agreed to pay a Pine Hill man $75,000 to settle his claim that he was kept in jail for three weeks for armed robbery when the robbery's victim reportedly told police repeatedly that they arrested the wrong man.

In his lawsuit, Vaughn Molock said that after having been released from jail on an unrelated offense on June 22, 2011, Clementon Police Officer Joseph McDevit interviewed the victim of a armed robbery that occurred on the day of Molock's release.  According to the lawsuit, McDevit, "without any support or factual basis, . . . claimed that the alleged victim had identified [Molock] as the perpetrator of an armed robbery."   Molock said that he was arrested and spent three weeks in jail even though the "victim of the armed robbery repeatedly advised that [Molock] was not the person involved in the crime reported."  Molock said that the armed robbery charge against him was dismissed.

The case is captioned Molock v. Borough of Clementon, et al, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-03316 and Molock's attorney was Paul R. Rizzo of Warren.  Case documents are on-line here.

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 Clementon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Molock $75,000 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.

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.

Sparta school board confidentially paid out $85,000 for allegedly not taking reasonable steps to prevent reported student-on-student bully attack.

On June 15, 2016, the Sparta Board of Education (Sussex County) quietly paid $85,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former student who said that he was attacked by another student while he was walking on a path from Sparta High School to Station Park.

In his suit, Christopher Moore said that he was attacked by Tim Delea on October 26, 2009 while on school property.  Moore claimed that school officials knew about Delea's allegedly propensity to harass Moore "and failed to take reasonable action in accordance with the Anti-Bullying Act to prevent such conduct from occurring and/or to properly discipline Tim Delea."

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are Sparta Township, Tim Delea and Tim Delea's parents, Robert and Karen Delea.  An Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request has been sent to the Township of Sparta to determine how much, if anything, the Township contributed to the settlement.  This article will be updated upon receipt of the Township's response.  The public is unable to learn how much, if anything, the Delea family contributed because OPRA applies only to government agencies.    
Update--July 18, 2016: Mary Coe, Sparta Township Clerk, advised that "I am in receipt of your OPRA request dated July 17, 2016 in which you requested a copy of the settlement agreement between Sparta Township and Christopher Moore dated June 16, 2016. Please be advised that Sparta Township has no records responsive to your request concerning this individual."

The case is captioned Moore v. Sparta Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. SSX-L-618-12 and Moore's attorney was Chuck McGiveny of Florham Park.  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 Moore'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 the Sparta school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Moore $85,000 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.

Woodbridge Township paid $70,000 to confidentially settle three women's false arrest lawsuit.

On April 10, 2016, the Township of Woodbridge (Middlesex County) agreed to pay three African-American women $70,000 to settle their claim that a May 10, 2014 police encounter at the Woodbridge Center Mall resulted in a Woodbridge police officer jumping on the hood of one woman's car, pointing a gun in her face and telling her that he was going to shoot her.

In their lawsuit, Shaquila Ayler, Manirah Harris and Jasmine Gordon, all from Elizabeth, said that as they were exiting the mall, they were stopped by Woodbridge Officers D. Benigno (presumably Dennis Benigno) and Lyszyk (presumably Andrew D. Lyszyk) along with mall security guards Adilson Viera and Anthony Vasta.  While few details are given, the trio claimed that Benigno, who is now retired, jumped on "Ayler's car hood, pointed a gun at her face, and told her he was going to shoot her."

The three women claimed that officers forcibly removed them from Ayler's car and "threw them on the ground."  They claimed that they were patted down "on all parts of their body including their breast, between their legs, and on their buttock."

Ayler said that she was falsely charged with assaulting Benigno with her vehicle, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, obstructing the administration of law and resisting arrest. She said that she was held under $100,000 bail (initially cash and then reduced to cash or bond) for three days before she could post and that as a result was fired from her job with the State of New Jersey.

Harris and Gordon were both charged with resisting arrest and obstructing the administration of law and the charges against all three women were allegedly "approved" by Officer Randall Aptaker who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Ayler claimed that her attempt to file an Internal Affairs complaint was initially rebuffed because Woodbridge Police told her that "no Internal Affairs investigation would be conducted until the conclusion of plaintiffs' criminal cases." The trio said that all charges against them were dropped in April 2015 because "the defendant officers never appeared on any of the several court dates nor did they provide any discovery."  As of the date of the complaint, Ayler claimed that the Internal Affairs unit had not made finding on her complaint.

The case is captioned Ayler, Harris and Gordon v. Township of Woodbridge, et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-03645  and the trio's attorney was Cynthia H. Hardaway of Montclair.  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 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 Woodbridge or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ayler, Harris and Gordon $70,000 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.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Sparta Township confidentially paid $300,000 to resolve utility worker's claim that he was retaliated against for expressing concerns about copper and lead levels in Township's water supply.

On April 13, 2016, the Township of Sparta (Sussex County) agreed to pay $300,000 to its former Pumping Station Operator within its Municipal Utilities Department which provides water not only to Sparta but also to other surrounding areas. 

In his lawsuit, Mark Nelson said that the Township retaliated against him because he refused to obey Municipal Utilities Department Director Phillip Spaldi's June 2010 order to alter the method of treating the water supply immediately before samples were to be taken for testing by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).  Nelson claimed that the treatment alteration caused the samples tested by the NJDEP to show lower levels of copper and lead than the water that was normally supplied to the public.  Nelson claimed that he told his direct supervisor Michael Sportelli "that the water sample sent to the lab to be tested should be consistent with the water being distributed to the public." 

Nelson also said that he complained in November 2010 about "lead and copper treatment mechanisms being turned off at the Township's Newstar and Buttonwood Pump Houses" which Nelson claimed "resulted in an increased likelihood of contaminated water being present in the Township's water supply to its residents."  He said that Sportelli responded to his complaints "sarcastically" by saying "we don't put the lead and copper in the water."

Nelson's lawsuit also complained that Township officials ignored his Summer of 2010 warning that closing down the Commons Pump House instead of converting it to a "booster station" would result in pressure and supply problems in the Sussex Mills area of Sparta Township.  He said that on April 17, 2011, the the Sussex Mills water tank became empty and that wouldn't have occurred had his "booster station" recommendation been heeded.

As a result of his complaints, Nelson claimed that Sportelli went on a campaign of falsely writing him up six times during a four month period for "job performance deficiencies."  The lawsuit claimed that "Sportelli's memos were issued in retaliation for [Nelson's] whistle-blowing activities."  He said that Sportelli also retaliated by having him "climb the Alpine Water Tank within the Township during a lightning storm to fix a purported communication issue," to work on an electrical panel during the storm and to enter into a confined space that had not been properly tested and ventilated.

Nelson also claimed that Sportelli and Spaldi made multiple copies of a Monthly Safety Inspection Sheet and submitted copies of the same sheet to the Township's insurance carrier monthly after inserting the current date.  Nelson said that he "advised Sportelli that it would be inappropriate to submit the identical inspection sheets for multiple months" and that the "monthly safety checklists were required to be filled out contemporaneously for each month, not before or after the fact."

Nelson said that he reached out to Township Manager David Troast on February 29, 2012 by way of an e-mail with "Ongoing fraud, waste and conspiracy at the Sparta Township Water Utility" in the subject line.  Sportelli allegedly responded by writing two more disciplinary memos.  He said that when he finally met with Troast in May 2012, "Troast refused to discuss [Nelson's] concerns regarding fraud and waste with the Department, but instead directed [Nelson] that he would only discuss with him disciplinary action to be implemented by the Township against [him]." 

The fact that Nelson was ultimately disciplined is evidenced by a provision in the settlement agreement calling or the Township to "withdraw and dismiss" Final Notices of Disciplinary Action that were filed against Nelson on January 30, 2013, September 8, 2014 and September 8, 2014.  According to the agreement, these notices imposed a "ten (10) day suspension, [a] thirty (30) day suspension with a Ten Thousand Dollar ($10,000.00) reduction in pay, and [Nelson's] removal, respectively."

Nelson's complaint, at the link below, contains many more allegations of improper and retaliatory actions by Sparta officials.

The case is captioned Nelson v. Township of Sparta, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. SSX-L-266-13 and Nelson' attorney was Jeffrey D. Catrambone of Clifton.  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 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 Sparta or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Nelson $300,000 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.

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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sparta school board confidentially paid $50,000 to settle former custodian's wrongful termination lawsuit.

On March 21, 2016, the Sparta Board of Education (Sussex County) quietly paid $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former custodian who said that he was wrongfully terminated.

In his suit, Hector Acevedo said that since he began his employment with the school district in 1996, he received positive reviews and compliments on his competence.  He said that school district officials fired him on June 30, 2014 based on "alleged verbal comments" that Acevedo claimed he did not utter.  Acevedo, who was 56 years old when he filed his lawsuit in August 2015, also said that he was one of only two Spanish speaking people in his department and that the real cause of his firing was "his age, nationality, and minority status."

The case is captioned Acevedo v. Sparta Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MRS-L-2058-14 and Acevedo's attorney was Mark J. Brancato of Boonton.  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 Acevedo'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 the Sparta school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Acevedo $50,000 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.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Lakewood school board confidentially paid $25,000 to settle former teacher's discrimination lawsuit.

On February 22, 2016, the Lakewood Board of Education (Ocean County) quietly paid $25,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former 5th grade teacher who claimed she was let go because she was pregnant.

In her suit, Dana Gibson said that her 5th grade teaching contract was not renewed because she was pregnant which is a disability under [the Law Against Discrimination]."  She claimed that school officials told her that the reason for her non-renewal was that "she had not demonstrated the ability to deliver high-quality instruction on a consistent basis and that the classroom instruction demonstrated low teacher/student expectations."  Gibson claimed, however, that this was "false and pretextual" because she was regularly observed by her supervisors and was never informed of any alleged shortcomings.

The case is captioned Gibson v. Lakewood Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-115-14 and Gibson's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 Gibson'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 the Lakewood school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gibson $25,000 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.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education confidentially paid $110,000 to settle teacher's sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit.

On May 17, 2016, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $110,000 to a gay teacher who claimed that he was let go from his third grade teaching position because of his sexual orientation.

In his suit, Matthew Richards, who started teaching at the William J. McGinn Elementary School in August 2011, said that he received nothing but positive reviews until he "announced his intention to marry his gay partner" in January 2014.  Shortly thereafter, he claimed that an unnamed parent falsely accused him of keeping her son after class "with an innuendo of sexual impropriety."  He claimed that the same parent stirred up other parents "to support her vendetta against Richards."

Shortly thereafter, Richards said that the principal's previously positive reviews became highly negative and resulted in his dismissal at the end of the 2013-14 school year.  He claimed "that there was a pre-planned determination to terminate him as a teacher because of his sexual orientation, with his alleged poor teaching performance to be used as a pretext."

The case is captioned Richards v. Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education, et al, Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3990-14 and Richards' attorney was Dennis Calo of River Edge..  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 Richards'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 the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Richards $110,000 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.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pleasantville Board of Education confidentially paid $45,000 and gives Assistant Principal position to Caucasian who claimed racial discrimination.

On December 23, 2015, the Pleasantville Board of Education (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a Caucasian employee who complained that she was repeatedly passed over for promotion and that the positions were given to less qualified African-Americans. 

In her suit, Renee Marie Irwin, who has been employed by the school district since 1997, stated that in 2003 she applied for the Alternative School's assistant principal position but that the job was given to a "less qualified African-American teacher."  After working as an assistant principal for three years in another district, she returned to Pleasantville in 2007, applied for another assistant principal position and once again claimed to have lost out to less qualified African-American.  She claimed that the same thing happened during the 2012/13 school year when she applied for interim assistant principal.

According to the complaint, Irwin was finally given the chance to work as an interim principal at Pleasantville High School but her position was eliminated for "financial reasons" in February 2013.  When the position was again posted, Irwin claimed that she again lost out to an African-American.  She claimed that she was also similarly passed over in 2013 and 2014.

As of the date of this writing, Irwin is listed as the assistant principal of the Leeds Avenue School.

The case is captioned Irwin v. Pleasantville Board of Education, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-5807-14 and Irwin's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  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 Irwin'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 Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Irwin $45,000 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.