Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mantua paid out $85,000 to settle DPW mechanic's hostile workplace lawsuit.

On July 21, 2016, the Township of Mantua (Gloucester County) paid $85,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former Public Works mechanic who said that Township officials retaliated against him for insisting that the Township's Anti-Harassment policy be enforced.

According to his lawsuit, Joseph Graciano, who described himself as "dark-skinned and of Mexican/Latin American descent," said that in July 2013 he complained to DPW Director Mike Datz about a co-worker calling him a "f**king n**ger" in the break room.  Graciano, who said that he was the only racial minority employed by Mantua as of May 2016, said that the same co-worker "drove a truck into him and nearly ran him over" in 2008.  After the 2008 incident, the same co-worker, Rick Cade, allegedly yelled out "stupid n**ger, you should have moved." Graciano claimed that despite its Anti-Harassment Policy, Mantua Township did not investigate his allegations and actually promoted Cade after his alleged use of racial slurs was reported.

Graciano's lawsuit also alleged that Township officials retaliated against him for continuing to press his discrimination complaint against Cade.  He said that he was arrested on November 21, 2013 for stealing an old trash can that he had "borrowed from the pile of discarded Township equipment."  He said that other Township employees routinely took equipment home for their personal use.  His lawsuit alleged that Cade "took Township lawn mowers, trucks, trailers and a leaf blower home on numerous occasions."  The suit also claimed that another employee "took a tire changing machine home and used it in his side business."  (As stated below, neither allegation has been proven.) 

Graciano said that he was suspended without pay on November 22, 2013 and that the charges against him were dismissed by the Glassboro Municipal Court after a hearing on June 13, 2014.  When he returned to work on June 17, 2014, he said that Datz gave him a Notice of Disciplinary Action suspending him for 10 days for the trash can theft charge.  He said that the Township did not actually carry through on the suspension.  He said that in October 2014, the Township paid him back pay for the period of his suspension--November 2013 through June 2014.

The lawsuit claimed that the retaliation against Graciano increased after he filed his lawsuit in August 2015.  He said that Mantua official repeatedly wrote him up "for bogus reasons."  He said that the situation was so bad that he resigned in May 2016.

The case is captioned Graciano v. Township of Mantua, et al, Docket No. GLO-L-1151-15 and Graciano's attorney was Scott M. Pollins of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. 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 Mantua or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Graciano $85,000 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.