$230,340 Settlement in Race-Bias Suit

Richburg v. Lakewood Board of Education, 11-cv-00774-FLW; U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson, Trenton; April 19.

Facts & Allegations: Dean Richburg, director of counseling, and Tammy Mitchell, a special education teacher, both claimed racial bias by the Lakewood Board of Education.

Both plaintiffs, who are African-American, said the discrimination resulted in Richburg’s wrongful termination and in harm to Mitchell’s career.

Both sued the board, Superintendent Lydia Silva and the school system’s consulting psychiatrist, David Gallina. The suit was amended to add a claim by Mitchell against the school system’s attorney, Michael Inzelbuch.

Richburg claimed he endured a pattern of derogatory conduct designed to erode his chance for advancement and destroy his ability to work in a professional environment.

Richburg claimed that, unlike other directors, he had an office at the high school instead of at the school district’s main office; his office was akin to a storage facility; and he was forced to enter through other employees’ offices. He also claimed that the high school’s principal would invade his privacy by entering his office during staff meetings, and that when he complained, nothing was done and the principal retaliated by excluding him from planning meetings.

When he spoke out about this treatment, he allegedly was subjected to false accusations of unprofessional conduct and was falsely accused by a male vice principal of having made sexual advances toward him.

Richburg also claimed that the board required him to submit to a psychiatric evaluation by Gallina, who reportedly concluded Richburg was unfit for employment because he suffered from “adjustment disorder and occupational stress.” Subsequently, the board fired Richburg after he refused a request to resign.

Mitchell, a tenured teacher, similarly claimed that she endured a pattern of derogatory conduct. She alleged that she was repeatedly and improperly denied advancement because she is female and African-American.

She claimed that Inzelbuch had helped block her promotion because she had sued him for legal malpractice after concluding he had failed to timely file a claim she could have lodged against a previous employer.

The defendants denied any discriminatory or retaliatory conduct or improper treatment.

Richburg claimed that after being given 60 days’ notice of his termination, he was unable to gain employment because Lakewood apparently cited his alleged mental problems as grounds for termination. He claimed this loss of employment resulted in financial loss and emotional distress.

Mitchell claimed that as a result of both the board’s and Inzelbuch’s actions against her, she was denied promotions, resulting in financial loss and emotional distress.

Mitchell settled for $225,000. The settlement agreement provided that she is to be placed on paid administrative leave through the end of her annual employment contract for the 2011-12 school year, together with unused vacation time.

Richburg’s settlement provided he would be paid the costs of the suit as well as $5,340 for unused vacation time.

The settlements are to be funded by the board’s insurance carrier. No contributions were made on behalf of Gallina.

Plaintiff Attorney:Michael Nelson, Freehold.

Defense Attorney: David B. Rubin, Metuchen (for David Gallina); Diane Shelley, Jackson Lewis, Morristown (for Lakewood Board of Education, Lydia Silva, Michael Inzelbuch).

This report is based on court records and information from plaintiff and defense attorneys.


$275,000 Settlement in Shooting

Cofi v. Brick Township, 11-cv-00087-MLC-LHG; U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper, Trenton; June 16.

Facts & Allegations: On Jan. 8, 2012, Salim Cofi, then 27, was shot in the leg, reportedly by Brick Police Sgt. Terrance Covert.

The shooting occurred during execution of a search warrant obtained by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office to search the Waterside Gardens apartment complex in Brick, where Cofi lived. The investigation that led to procurement of the search warrant was suspected weapons- and drug-related activity at the complex.

Cofi was arrested and later indicted by a grand jury for unlawful possession of cocaine, but the charge was downgraded to a disorderly person offense, and Cofi pleaded guilty and was fined.

Cofi sued Covert and Brick, alleging civil-rights violations. He alleged that Covert used unreasonable force by shooting him, that all the officers involved in the search warrant had been complicit in the assaultive behavior, and that his civil rights were further violated when officers failed to call an ambulance in a timely manner.

The defense maintained that the discharge of Covert’s service weapon, and the wounding of Cofi, had been an unfortunate consequence of a lawful search and seizure. The defense pointed out that Covert was an experienced and decorated police officer, and that a review of the shooting cleared him of wrongdoing.

Cofi claimed that the gunshot wound injured his left leg and hip, and back and lower body, rendered him permanently impaired and caused him to lose income and earning capacity.

The case settled for $275,000, paid by Ocean County’s municipal insurance.

Plaintiff Attorney:Stanley King, King & King, Woodbury.

Defense Attorney: Jared Monaco, Gilmore & Monahan, Toms River.

Insurer: Ocean County Joint Insurance Fund (for Brick Township).

This report is based on court records and information provided by plaintiff counsel. Defense counsel declined to comment.


$30,000 Settlement in Suit Alleging Assault by Officers

Seeley v. Essex County Correctional Facility, 10-cv-00706-WJM; U.S. District Judge William Martini, Newark; June 18.

Facts & Allegations:Lester Seeley alleges that on Dec. 15, 2007, he was assaulted while in custody at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.

Seeley sued the implicated corrections officers — Jermaine Baptiste, Bruce Moore, Danny Smith and Fuquan Countryman — alleging that they had been acting under color of state law and engaged in civil-rights violations under 42 U.S.C. §1983. Also named were the Essex County Correctional Facility, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, Essex County and Sheriff Armando Fontoura, against whom claims were asserted for vicarious liability and negligent hiring and supervision.

Seeley claimed that the unprovoked attack had been intended to inflict emotional harm.

Fontoura, the Essex County Correctional Facility, Essex County, and officers Moore and Smith denied the allegations. The suit was originally filed in Essex County Superior Court, but was removed to federal court. Baptiste and Countryman did not file answers and defaults were eventually perfected against them.

Seeley alleged that as a result of the assault, he suffered permanent mental and physical injuries that will require future medical care and that prevent him from engaging in his usual pursuits.

Seeley sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and other costs.

The answering defendants disputed Seeley’s claims of injury.

An order for judgment was entered granting the motion for default judgment in favor of Seeley on his claims against Countryman and Baptiste. That order provided that damages would be determined at a later date.

On June 18, a settlement was reached with the remaining defendants against whom issue had been joined. In exchange for mutual releases that did not include the defaulting defendants, it was agreed that Essex County would pay Seeley $30,000.

Plaintiff Attorney:Kevin Corriston, Breslin & Breslin, Hackensack.

Defense Attorneys: Alan Ruddy, Office of the Essex County Counsel, Newark (for Essex County, Essex County Correctional Facility, Essex County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Armando Fontoura); Timothy R. Smith, Caruso Smith Edell Picini, Fairfield (for Bruce Moore, Danny Smith).

This report is based on court records and information from the plaintiff counsel. Defense counsel declined to comment.

The cases that appear here are derived from VerdictSearch New Jersey, an affiliate of the New Jersey Law Journal. For more reports from VerdictSearch, or to request research, go to VerdictSearch.com or call 1-800-832-1900.