Galloway Township has settled another lawsuit for $250,000, this time with a current employee.
The township recently reached the settlement with employee Jody Smith, who was suing the township for eliminating the position of land use administrator/zoning officer. Smith signed the agreement on Dec. 21, 2012, according to a document released to Galloway Patch as the result of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.
Individuals named in the lawsuit included Mayor Don Purdy, Township Planner Tiffany Cuviello, former mayor Keith Hartman and former manager Steve Bonanni. Smith’s attorney, Clifford L. Van Sync, had previously said that because of the complexities involved in the case, it may be two or three years before the case went to court. The case was filed on Feb. 3 of last year.
Van Sync will be paid $56,417.37 of the $250,000, and $12,399.38 will go to Ionno and Higbee, LLC.
Smith’s payroll deductions will be reduced by $25,000, and the sum of $156,183.25 will be paid to Van Sync as trustee to Smith, to be paid within 30 days of the settlement.
The sum of $156,183.25 represents payment for non-economic damages, including loss of enjoyment of life, but is not representative of loss of income or punitive damages claims.
The case was dismissed with prejudice, and no costs or attorney’s fees were awarded to Smith. Smith released the township of any and all claims, known or unknown, relating to, but not limited to, the lawsuit.
The details of the settlement were released a few weeks after the details of the settlement between the township and former clerk Lisa Tilton, also worth $250,000.
Smith’s position was eliminated at the council meeting on Feb. 22, 2011. This resulted in Smith being laid off, but through what is known as the “bumping process,” she retained her employment status with the township, and is currently employed in the Tax Assessor’s Office, where she has taken a pay cut.
In eliminating her previous position, she alleged that all defendants acted as agents of Galloway Township to participate in, aid or abet. She alleged they conspired and engaged in acts furthering the conspiracy.
"I was never concerned with allegations of any wrong doing on my behalf since I didn't do anything wrong," Hartman said via email late Wednesday night. "I'm glad I have been cleared of the accusations. It's unfortunate that the township continues to see litigation as a result of their human resource practices."
Purdy, Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola and Manager Arch Liston didn’t return calls seeking comment Wednesday night. Smith, Cuviello and Bonanni could not be reached for comment.
She had been seeking a return to her previous position, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
The lawsuit contained an email shared between former Councilman Dennis Kleiner and former Township Manager Roger Tees, in which Tees informs Kleiner that Smith’s position will be eliminated and no other layoffs were being considered at that time. The reasons given in both the email and in public referenced Smith’s department’s inability to sustain itself through inspection- and permit fees, and that it worked in a budget deficit that was supplemented by the general fund. During the meeting, Hartman estimated the township would save between $60,000 and $70,000, and Councilman Tony Coppola is quoted in the lawsuit as stating residential permits dropped from 372 to 28, a statement Smith disputed as false.
The lawsuit referenced a phone call from Kleiner to Smith informing her he was faxing her an email that showed her position was being eliminated, and that he believed Hartman and Purdy were acting illegally. However, Smith later referenced that same email as having been provided to her by Tees.
In the lawsuit, Smith claimed Kleiner said he felt Purdy, who was Deputy Mayor at the time, had a vendetta against Smith.
She also claimed that Tees told her during an encounter on July 18 that he would swear under oath that Purdy lied during the Feb. 22 meeting when he stated it was Tees who wanted to eliminate Smith’s position. She also alleged that Purdy and Hartman “secretly and illegally” met with Cuviello about transferring Smith’s duties to Cuviello.
In her lawsuit, Smith alleges that Bonanni’s salary was increased by $18,000 following Smith’s termination, which Smith says shows her termination was not related to financial matters. Smith also alleges several other township employees have received salary increases, at least two of which she believed to be $5,000 increases.
A copy of the settlement is included with this story as a PDF.