Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tenafly to pay $400,000 and give over five months of paid leave to settle DPW worker's discrimination lawsuit.

On January 24, 2017, the Tenafly Borough Council (Bergen County) resolved to pay $400,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Department of Public Works employee who said that he was subjected to a hostile work environment since his hiring in 2002.  The worker will get $250,000 right away and $150,000 when he resigns his position on June 30, 2017.  In the meantime, he will be on paid leave with full benefits.

According to his lawsuit, Aaron Perelli, who has worked for the Tenafly Department of Public Works as a driver/laborer, claimed that his Agoraphobia and a Panic Disorder caused him to have panic attacks if he had to drive to unfamiliar towns.  He said that Borough administration was aware of his disability and agreed, upon hiring him, to not make him drive out-of-town or long distances. 

Despite the agreement, Perelli alleged that Borough Administrator Jewel V. Thompson-Chin, DPW Director Robert Buetel and DPW foreman Ken Kraus sent him on frequent out-of-town assignments and threatened to fire him if he refused.  He said that this caused him to "suffer severe panic and anxiety attacks on an almost daily basis."  He said that Kraus would barrage him with hostile obscenities such as calling him a "f***ing p***y" who "sucked his father's c**k."  Perelli also claimed that it was well known by Thompson-Chin and Buetel that Kraus was an anti-Semite who frequently called Jewish people "Jew F**ks" and that Kraus allegedly stole scrap metal as well as tip money that Borough residents had taped to their garbage cans during the holidays.  Perelli claimed that Kraus was a vulgar person who once allegedly announced in front of a large group of employees that a female employee should "take out her teeth" and give him a "blow job."

In subsequent counts of his complaint, Perelli alleged that he received a serious back injury in January 2011 when he was thrown off a garbage truck driven in an unsafe manner by a drunk co-worker.  He claimed that Thompson-Chin, Buetel and Kraus refused to assign him to light duty while he recovered. He similarly claimed that he was forced to wheelbarrow asphalt after returning to work after being out for asthma and bronchitis.

The case is captioned Perelli v. Borough of Tenafly, et al, Bergen County Docket No. BER-L-19784-14 and Perelli's attorney was Rosemarie Arnold of Fort Lee.  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 Tenafly or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Perelli $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.