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.

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.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Newark confidentially paid out $80,000 to settle mother's suit that claimed that Newark police failed to inform her of her son's death.

On November 2, 2016, the City of Newark (Essex County) agreed to pay $80,000 to settle a Garfield woman's lawsuit that claimed that Newark Police found her son's body on November 23, 2007 but refused her attempts to file two missing person reports in December 2007 and failed to notify her that her son was deceased.  The woman claimed that she was not informed of her son's death until the New York Police Department reported it to her in January 2012, which was well after her son's body was buried in a mass grave.

In her lawsuit, Zdenka Simkova said that the body of her son, Michael Simkova, was found by Newark police on November 23, 2007 and was positively identified by fingerprints on November 27, 2007.  She claimed that although Newark police officials knew that Michael was deceased, they rebuffed her December 1, 2007 and December 9, 2007 attempts to file a missing persons report.  According to Mrs. Simkova, Newark police told her both times that they had recently seen her son alive.  She said that the Newark police refused to let her post flyers in the Pennsylvania Station seeking the public's help in locating her son. By the time she finally learned of her son's death more than four years later, he had already been buried in a mass grave as an indigent.

Named in the lawsuit are Michael Chirico, Miguel Arroyo, Keith Jones, Luis Sequinot, John Evangelista, Vincent Vitiello, J. Hadley, Bethzaida Cruz and Miriam Smith. All are employed by the Newark Police Department.

The case is captioned Simkova v. Newark, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-01264 and Simkova's attorney was Peter Briskin of Hillsdale.  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 Newark or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Simkova $80,000 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.