Thursday, December 22, 2016

Police union complains that Sea Isle City police chief is "demeaning and insulting."

In a December 10, 2016 letter to Sea Isle City (Cape May County) Mayor Len Desiderio, the Cape May County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7 stated that "we have come to a point where we no longer have confidence in the leadership of Chief of Police Thomas J. D'Intino."

The letter goes on to state that the chief "has regularly engaged in conduct toward members of the department that can be described as both demeaning and insulting" and cites "markedly low morale, lack of positive dialogue and [a] failure to address situations involving training, equipment and grievances."

The letter, which requests a meeting with the Mayor and City Council, states that the union does "not intend to make these issues a public spectacle."

Middletown taxpayers must reimburse teachers pension fund $3.8 million.

An appeals court today affirmed a ruling requiring the Middletown Board of Education (Monmouth County) to reimburse its pension fund $3,815,600 for offering Board employees an "illegal" early retirement incentive.

According to the Appellate Division's December 22, 2016 opinion, the Middletown school board approved a "sidebar agreement" with the local teachers union on October 22, 2007 that offered tenured teachers who retired or resigned prior to June 30, 2008 $225 for each unused sick day up to a maximum of $40,000.  The agreement similarly offered non-certified union members $125 per sick day up to a maximum of $20,000. 

The next day, an Audit Supervisor with the Division of Pensions and Benefits, who had heard about the offering, said that the offering needed to be reviewed by the Division and asked the Board for specific information which the Board provided on November 5, 2007.  By then, five teachers and a secretary had exercised their rights under the sidebar agreement. 

On August 1, 2008, the Division informed the Board that the early retirement benefit was "impermissible" and directed the Board to "provide a final list of all individuals" that had taken advantage of it so that a Division actuary could "develop the acceleration cost of this incentive which in turn will be billed to [the Board]."  Although the Board responded to the Division on August 11, 2008, the Division did not get back to the Board until February 6, 2014.  On that date, the Division informed the Board that it was "responsible for the additional pension liabilities created" by its unauthorized early retirement incentive.  The Division calculated the present value of those pension liabilities at $5,429,900 and invoiced the Board for that amount.

The Board appealed the Division's decision and invoice to Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund (TPFA) Board of Trustees.  On December 14, 2014, the TPFA affirmed the Division's ruling that the early retirement incentive was illegal but reduced the assessment to $3,815,600 and allowed the Board to pay that amount over a five year period at no interest.

The Board filed another appeal which was resolved by the TPFA's March 13, 2015 written decision.  That decision held that 41 employees ultimately took advantage of the sidebar agreement's early retirement incentive and that those early retirements burdened the pension fund. 

The Appellate Division rejected the Board's appeal of the TPFA's ruling.  The court found that the Board "approved the Sidebar Agreement without consulting the Division or obtaining approval and then implemented the Sidebar Agreement after receiving a letter from the Division stating approval was required before such a plan could be implemented."  The court also noted that the Board failed to provide any actuarial evidence to contest the findings of the Division's actuary.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pennsauken school employee accused of breaking leg of bullied student.

In a lawsuit filed in September 2015, a male seventh-grader who claimed to have been bullied since the fourth grade said that a math teacher threw him to the ground and broke his leg while he was trying to defend himself from a bully's attack.

In their lawsuit, the student, identified as Z.B., and his parents said that Z.B. constant exposure to bullying was reported but that school officials failed to protect him.  According to the lawsuit, the bullying worsened in 7th grade when a another student, N.G. "pointed a realistic looking toy gun at Z.B. in school," an act which allegedly netted N.G. eighteen months of probation.  Z.B. claimed that when two other students threatened him, he received detention for being threatened.

According to the suit, Z.B. was "sucker punched" in the face on June 9, 2014 by student D.B. and that "while D.B. was physically attacking Z.B., Pennsauken School employee John DelGrippo violently pulled Z.B. away from the scene and threw Z.B. to the ground" causing Z.B. to "incur a bone fracture" and other injuries.  An employee named "John DelGrippo" is listed on the school board's website as being a math teacher at Phifer Middle School.

The lawsuit is presently in discovery phase and no proceedings are currently scheduled.  Z.B. and his parents are being represented by Gregg L. Zeff of Mount Laurel and the school district is being defended by William S. Donio of Cooper Levenson of Atlantic City.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Actions that "may" cause emotional harm justify revocation of license to run a home for the developmentally disabled even if those actions do not cause actual emotional harm.

Today, the Appellate Division upheld a decision by the Department of Human Services to revoke a woman's license to operate a residence for developmentally disabled people.  According to the decision, licensee Alice Wilkins, after days of having dealt with a defiant 20-year-old patient who had been "crying, cursing, screaming, and punching the walls," told the patient that she would have her "locked up in Ancora [Psychiatric Hospital]."  She also admitted to having locked the front door of the residence after the patient left with a packed bag, even though she did immediately let the patient back into the house after she banged on the door.  According to the decision, the patient, identified only as F.D, "had a history of disagreements with her caregivers" and "there were several reports of documented instances of F.D. falsely accusing other mentors and their family members of misconduct," including false claims about a teacher making advances toward her and a mentor's family member raping her.

An Administrative Law Judge reversed the Department's decision to revoke Wilkins' license.  The judge found that events occurring during the days leading up to the "Ancora" threat "amply portrayed F.D.'s deteriorating behavior and tendency to provoke, manipulate or lie."  The judge also noted that Wilkins had reached out to her employer and the Department of Developmental Disabilities for help with F.D. but that neither assisted her.  The judge ultimately found that Wilkins did not lock F.D. out of the house and that her "Ancora" comment was "not abusive when viewed in context."

The Department reversed the Administrative Law Judge's decision because "the fact that Wilkins' actions were not intention did not excuse them," that "verbal threats and demeaning statements . . . may cause emotional harm" and that "it is not relevant that there is no actual emotional harm, as long as the actions . . . are of a type that may cause emotional harm."  The Department also ruled that that neither Wilkins' remorse nor the amount of stress that she was under excused her actions.

The Appellate Division, which is required to uphold the Department's decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, upheld Wilkins' license revocation.  The two-judge panel said that while it "appreciate[d] the [judge's] concerns regarding the harshness of the revocation of Wilkins' license based upon the actions of a single day when she acted under stress, especially where the blame for the incident should be shared with those who ignored her prior pleas for help," it also recognized "that the primary concern of the agency and the applicable regulations are to protect very vulnerable, developmentally disabled individuals, who are frequently difficult to manage from even unintentional abuse and neglect."