Thursday, January 31, 2013

Deptford EMT sues for sexual harassment and retaliation

On December 26, 2012, Dawn Law, an Emergency Medical Technician employed by Deptford Township (Gloucester County) sued the Township under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (Law v. Township of Deptford, Docket No. GLO-L-1890-12, a copy of which is on-line here.)

Law, who has worked as a Deptford EMT since 2000, claimed that EMT Deputy Chief David Snyder sent her a text message on October 2, 2012 "propositioning her to engage in a sexual relationship."  Law claimed that the invitation was "unanticipated, unwelcomed and unappreciated."  Snyder then allegedly tried to meet with Law for a matter not related to work.

Thereafter, Law claimed she was afraid that she might be forced to work shifts alone with Snyder.  After reporting Snyder's advances to Chief Tom Newman, Snyder was allegedly given a choice between resigning immediately or being suspended pending an investigation. 

Then, a few days later, Law was ordered to meet with Deptford Township Solicitor Doug Long.  According to the complaint, Long told Law that "he had conducted a preliminary investigation and decided that the relationship between plaintiff and Mr. Snyder was consensual."  Long allegedly then gave Law a choice between resigning and receiving a check for unpaid sick and vacation time or to "fight Mr. Long and be suspended for 30 days and then terminated."  Law claims that neither she nor her partner, Paul Reyes, were interviewed during Long's alleged investigation.  After declining Long's offer to resign, Law claims that she was suspended from duty from October 25, 2012 to November 19, 2012. 

Law, who is represented by Kevin Costello, Esq. of Mount Laurel, claims entitlement to damages and attorney fees.

Law's allegations are only that--allegations.  Nothing has been proven and no negative inferences should be drawn against Law, Snyder, Long or anyone else.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stafford Council ignoring its own towing rotation ordinance

January 29, 2013

Hon. John Spodofora, Mayor and Members of the
Stafford Township Council
260 East Bay Ave
Manahawkin, NJ 08050
(via e-mail only to BPark@twp.stafford.nj.us)

Dear Mayor Spodofora and Council members:

I believe that the Township is currently out of compliance with § 192-5 of its municipal code.  That section states:
§ 192-5. Eligibility for rotating list.

In addition to meeting all other criteria of this chapter and in order to be eligible for placement upon the rotating list of authorized towers, the contractor shall supply a certificate of liability insurance by a company licensed to do business in the State of New Jersey, certifying that the contractor maintains workers compensation and garage liability insurance of not less than $1,000,000 combined single limit, garage keepers' liability of not less than $100,000 per vehicle, said garage keepers' legal liability insurance policy to further provide for fire, theft and explosion. All public liability insurance, including garage liability and garage keepers' legal liability coverage, shall name the Township of Stafford, its officers, agents and employees as additional insureds on the policy, shall hold them harmless, indemnify them from any and all claims filed against the Township arising out of any act or failure to act on behalf of the contractor and shall contain an endorsement providing 30 days' notice to the Township in the event of any material changes of the policy or cancellation thereof. Those contractors meeting the eligibility requirements shall be approved and added to the rotating list by resolution of the Township Council, upon advice of the Chief of Police. (Emphasis supplied)
I recently submitted an OPRA request to Clerk Bernadette Park seeking "the most recently passed Township Council resolution that added contractors to the rotating list in accordance with Ord. §. 192-5."  In response, Ms. Park provided me with no resolution but wrote:
In response to your question regarding towing licenses here in Stafford.  The is no current or fixed date or term of any towing licenses here in Stafford.  However, each year towing contractors, in order to be eligible for towing here in Stafford must supply a certificate of liability insurance certifying that the towing contractor maintains worker compensation & garage liability insurance and also names the township of Stafford as additional insured on their policy.  There is a criminal history check and drivers license check done by the Stafford Township Police Department yearly on all employees that are employed by towing contractors.
Yet, the Township Code doesn't permit the Police Department and Township Administration, acting alone, to put towing contractors to be put on the rotation.  Rather, the Code explicitly requires the Police Chief's recommended towing companies to "be approved and added to the rotating list by resolution of the Township Council."  Absent a resolution, none of the towing companies that the Township currently recognizes as being on the rotation list (Mark's Towing & Road Service, Midnite Towing Inc., South Shore Towing Inc. and Stohrer Bros. Inc.) are properly on the towing list for want of an authorizing resolution.

I believe that government needs to turn sharp corners when dealing with the public, especially here, when the Township Committee is, in effect, conferring a towing monopoly on these four towing companies.  If the Township Code calls for a resolution, then your choices are either to pass a resolution or amend the code to remove the resolution requirement.

Beyond that, there is a good policy reason underlying the Code's requirement that resolutions be passed.  Passing resolutions during an open, public meeting informs members of the public of the companies which which the Township has chosen to do business and provides them with an opportunity, during the public portion of the meeting, to criticize or commend the companies selected and also to note and comment on any familial or business affiliations between those companies and the Council members who currently serve.

I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Absecon Police Officer April Kolakowski: Perennial victim or a troublemaker?

According to a December 28, 2012 Press of Atlantic City article ("Police Officer sues Absecon, alleges procedural violation," by Derek Harper), Absecon Police Officer April M. Kolakowski filed suit against the City of Absecon seeking to overturn disciplinary penalties imposed upon her.  Kolakowski's lawsuit, which was filed by Attorney John C. Eastlack of Cherry Hill, is captioned Kolakowski v.; City of Absecon, Docket No. ATL-L-7953-12 and is available on-line here.

According to her suit, Kolakowski (formerly April Van Daley) started with the Absecon Police Department in 2003 as a dispatcher and became a patrol officer in 2008.  She alleges that disciplinary charges were filed against her on September 29, 2009 but that she wasn't afforded a hearing until June 1, 2012.  Kolakowski's lawsuit does not mention the nature of the charges against her or the discipline imposed.  The Press article, however, states that the disciplinary charges arose out an "encounter" Kolakowski had with Absecon Emergency Services Chief Rich Hudson after a tenant at a local motel allegedly received inadequate medical care. 

This is the third time Kolakowski has employed the courts to resolve disputes.   

The 2001 Lawsuit:


In 2001, she filed a lawsuit against Somers Point Police Chief Orville F. Mathis and others alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. (Van Daley v. Richard Cohen Associates, et al, Docket No. ATL-L-1262-01)

In this suit, Kolakowski, who was hired in March 1999, alleged that since she was the first and only female officer at the time, male police officials conspired to have her removed from the department.  They accomplished this, she said, through humiliation, the filing of bogus disciplinary charges and requiring her to undergo a "fitness for duty psychological evaluation." She claimed that the evaluation was not genuine but a pretext to allow officials to documented fabrications that would support their quest to have her fired.

Kolakowski said that senior police officers John Divel and Salvatore Armenia, "abused the [supervisory] authority" they had over her "so as to discriminate against [her]."  For example, Divel, her squad supervisor, allegedly demonstrated a "sexist attitude" toward her, "deliberately humiliat[ed] [her] on the radio" and required her to follow rules to which no male officer was required to follow. Armenia, she claimed, told her "that if she had to utilize the restroom facilities while on duty, she must expressly ask permission to do so and could do so only in the police department." 

Her suit further alleged that Chief Mathis ordered her to go to the "fitness for duty psychological evaluation" which was conducted by Richard Cohen, Ph.D.  During those sessions, Cohen allegedly asked Kolakowski about "intimate sexual details of her life," including whether she ever "made out" with Divel.  She claimed that Mathis "hand-picked" Cohen as the evaluator because he knew "that he would willingly shape his opinion or testimony so as to provide the maximum harm to [Kolakowski's] position."

Kolakowski's suit, which was filed by Cherry Hill attorney Clifford L. Van Syoc, settled on September 23, 2013 for $180,000.  The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

(Mathis, who was born in 1942, retired in 2007 and is collecting an $87,349 annual pension. Divel, who was born in 1959, retired in 2011 and is collecting a $62,314 annual pension. Armenia became chief in 2007 after Mathis retired.  He since retired effective December 31, 2011.  In 2011 he collected an annual salary of $142,948.)

The 2005 Lawsuit:

On October 4, 2005, Kolakowski filed a lawsuit against the City of Absecon alleging that the City, despite promises to the contrary, refused to give her a position as a police officer because of the earlier lawsuit she filed against Somers Point.  (Van Daley v. City of Absecon, et al, Docket No. ATL-L-6532-05.)

In the 2005 suit, Kolakowski alleged that Absecon hired her as a police dispatcher in August of 2003 after she had "resigned in good standing" from the Somers Point Police Department.  After a year as working as a dispatcher, she applied for an opening as a full time Absecon Police Officer.  She alleges that Police Chief Charles J. Smith told her that she was "just edged out" by another candidate.  Yet, Smith, according to the lawsuit, refused to show Kolakowski the list of the candidates' rankings.

Thereafter, she applied for another police officer position.  This time, she alleged that she was promised the position.  But, she alleged, Sergeant David Risley and "Henchy" (presumably Officer Robert Henchy), after speaking with a Somers Point officer, determined that Kolakowski was a "troublemaker" and that it would be "a mistake" to hire her.  Ultimately, Joyce H. Lee, an Asian female, was hired instead of Kolakowski even though she was allegedly not qualified for the position. 

Kolakowski's suit settled on March 5, 2008.  Kolakowski received $40,000 for "emotional distress" and her attorney, Clifford L. Van Syoc, received $55,000.  Kolakowski was also allowed to become a Probationary Police Officer and was given a one-month paid leave of absence "as an expression of good faith" so that she could be "fully prepared for the Police Academy." The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

(Chief Smith retired at age 53 in 2008, and at the time of this retirement, he was given a 18.9 increase in his pay and his pension, which brought his salary to $104,698 and his pension to $51,342. He was also given a check for $281,874 for unused sick, vacation and personal time.  David Risley, who made $92,592 in 2011, became Absecon's police chief in March 2012 after former chief Joseph J. Cowan abruptly retired on February 1, 2012 at age 48.  Before his retirement, Cowan made $128,700 in 2011.  Robert Henchy retired in 2011, at age 48, at a final salary of $93,676. He will receive an annual pension of $60,889. Joyce Lee was promoted to sergeant in April 2012, and made $81,543 in 2011.)