Wednesday, May 24, 2017

ACUA confidentially paid out $70,000 to resolve racial discrimination lawsuit that alleged break room segregation, nooses, a swastika tattoo and Confederate flags.

On June 23, 2016, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) agreed to pay $70,000 to a Puerto Rican male employee who said that he was subjected to pervasive discrimination because of his race.  This is the second recent discrimination case against the ACUA that resulted in a settlement--Scott Henry's lawsuit settled for $97,500 on May 20, 2016.

In his complaint, Angel Rodriguez said that he was told when he was hired that the ACUA is "a little bit racist."  While working there, he allegedly experienced white workers receiving preferential treatment, two incidents where nooses were found in his and another minority worker's vehicles and white employees openly displaying Confederate flags on their personal vehicles.  He also alleged that one employee "display[ed] a tattoo of a swastika that is visible while in his ACUA uniform" and that he witnessed a conversation disparaging Mexican immigrants who "are always warming up their rice and beans."  An October 25, 2014 Press of Atlantic City article reported on both lawsuits.

Personally named as defendants in the lawsuit were ACUA President Richard Dovey and Rodriguez's direct supervisor Michael Burton.

The case is captioned Rodriguez v. Atlantic County Utilities Authority, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-2239-15 and Rodriguez's attorney was Lisa R. Marone of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here. Although the matter settled on June 23, 2016, the court was not notified of the settlement until March 13, 2017.

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 Rodriguez'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 ACUA or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rodriguez $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.