Saturday, March 11, 2017

Paulsboro paid out $300,000 to settle former Borough Administrator's "racially hostile work environment" lawsuit.

On June 28, 2016, the Borough of Paulsboro (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a retaliation lawsuit filed in 2015 by its former Borough Administrator.

In her suit, Leeann Ruggeri claimed that Mayor W. Jeffrey Hamilton and Council members Theodore D. Holloway II, Joe Kidd and Jennifer Turner created a racially hostile work environment for her.  She claimed that at least some of the four defendants supported hiring candidates based on their race rather than on their qualifications.  The lawsuit describes Ruggeri as "a non-Hispanic Caucasian female" and says that Hamilton, Holloway, Kidd and Turner are all African American.  According to the Borough's website, Hamilton and Turner no longer hold elected office in Paulsboro while Holloway and Kidd do. 

Ruggeri claimed that Holloway and other unnamed officials made public statements urging the hiring of African American employees over prospective employees of other races.  She claimed that after she interviewed seven candidates for a position in the water and sewer department, Mayor Hamilton and Councilman Kidd were displeased that her recommended candidate was not African American.  According to the suit, Ruggeri later learned that Kidd had promised the job to an African American individual who was not the best candidate. 

The lawsuit contains many other grievances, including a claim that Ruggeri was retaliated against after she blocked Mayor Hamilton's attempt to hire an unqualified relative of Councilman Kidd to fill a Borough position.  As another example, Ruggeri said that she was "evicted from her office" and that Kidd went so far as to try to get the local police to forcibly remove her from her office.

According to an August 15, 2015 NJ.com article, the Borough Council "voted along racial lines" to fire Ruggeri a few days after she filed her lawsuit. 

The case is captioned Ruggeri v. Borough of Paulsboro, et al, Docket No. GLO-L-1145-15 and Ruggeri's attorneys were Matthew S. Wolf and Marisa Hermanovich of Cherry Hill. 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 Paulsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ruggeri $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.