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A National Guard pilot who said fellow flyers sexually harassed him and retaliated when he complained received $690,000 to settle his lawsuit. The settlement, announced last Thursday, is one of the largest paid to a state employee suing under the Law Against Discrimination. Robert Scott, a member of New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing in Atlantic County, claimed that his colleagues, mistakenly thinking he was gay, belittled him with rude sexual remarks and made him an outcast. When he reported the treatment and complained that a black pilot was being harassed, too, supervisors criticized him for not being a team player, gave him bad efficiency reports and grounded him, says his lawyer, Christopher Lenzo, of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge. Scott’s woes multiplied when the officer who was the target of his complaints was promoted to a position that made him Scott’s supervisor. After a failed attempt to remove the case to federal court, the state sought to be dismissed as a defendant on grounds that the Air National Guard was a federal agency, but Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee ruled it was a state entity. The parties settled in principle in mediation with retired Appellate Division Judge John Keefe Jr., of counsel to Lynch Martin of Shrewsbury. The state signed off in January and made the payment early last month. In turn, Scott agreed to retire. The settlement includes his legal fees. The state alleged that Scott deserved demotion and grounding because he did not accept findings of an internal investigation and continued to complain, undermining the cohesion required in a military unit. Lenzo says the state’s only viable defense was on the amount of damages. Scott’s estimated economic losses were $100,000 to $150,000 in the form of lost flight pay and pension benefits. But his ability to continue in his civilian job as a commercial airline pilot was not affected. The case illustrates how the fee-switching and fee-enhancement provisions in LAD cases affect settlements. If the state had lost at a trial it would have been subject to an award of fees, which were worth up to $500,000, Lenzo says. Chuck Davis, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, calls it a fair settlement that entailed no admission of liability. He says he does not know how the $690,000 payment ranks among other LAD settlements with the state. To settle a claim of harassment and retaliation, the state paid 13 minority state police officers $4 million in 2002. The highest individual award was $500,000, but none of the awards included legal fees. The state paid an extra $1 million for that.

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