July 06, 2007

Union County's Early Retirement Offering - Is It Really Voluntary??

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has almost annually touted a voluntary early retirement program as a means to save the county millions of taxpayer dollars and they stood by such a plan even in 2006 when the State of NJ notified them that the contrary would actually be the case.

In an article published on August 31, 2006, in the Star Ledger, the county spokesperson cited a possible $9.4 million savings by granting early retirement to 183 employees and lying off approximately 15 others. Further it was reported, that he went on to say, the savings would stem from eliminating positions and replacing retirees with younger employees who command lower salaries.

Statements of this nature can be problematic for the employer especially if all of the “potential retirees” are not on board with the plan.

Further, one should never, ever, allude to gender, marital status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, physical disability, political affiliation or age or allow any of the aforementioned to enter into the staffing picture, it is just plain unacceptable as is forcing so called early retirements, when in reality an employer is seeking to “dump” an employee.

The county now finds itself embroiled in not one but at least two law suits stemming from their so called early retirement offerings and layoffs:

In January of 2005 an employee in the prosecutor’s office filed suit claiming she was transferred from her position when she refused to take early retirement, freeholder resolutions indicate they have approved $40,000 in legal fees so far, the case appears to be still pending.

Superior Court

On May 3, 2007 another case was filed in the Superior Court Union County (docket # UNN-L-1592-07) against the Freeholder Board, George Devanney the County Manager, Elizabeth Genevich the Deputy County Mngr. and Dir of Admin Services, Alfred Faella the Dir. Of Economic Development and Charlotte DeFilippo the Dir. Of the UC Improvement Authority and Chairman of the UC Democratic Committee; in both their official and individual capacities. It appears that an employee of 18 yrs, R. T., is claiming that he was forced to retire in lieu of termination. It must be noted that R. T. is age 61 and disabled so he is considered a member of a number of protected classes under NJ law against discrimination.

The “Facts”, as presented by RT’s attorney at filing, state that RT scored the highest on his civil service tests and was continually promoted and received merit raises until the powers that be decided that because of his political alliances to the prior County Manager, Michael LaPolla who was not on the DeFilippo or Devanney “Political Hit Parade”, was one reason that he had to go.

Pattern of Harassment

A pattern of harassment had commenced moving RT from job to job, and office to office, at one point having shared a 20’ X 20’ office and conference area he says he ended up occupying a 3’ X 5’ cubical. Also he claims to have not been given work assignments and harassed in other discriminatory ways to include being referred to as the “man with the crooked face” by DeFilippo. RT suffers facial paralysis as the result of brain surgery. RT also asserts that Devanney and DeFilippo leaned on one of his immediate supervisors, with DeFilippo summoning that individual to her home in Hillside on what she called “County Business”. The business, it turned out, was a discussion of his, the supervisors loyalty to RT. The suit also makes mention that the home meeting was not unusual and it had been at previous meetings that she often directed county hiring and firings and what consultants to use within the county.

In all there appear to be seven counts with other allegations contained within the filing, RT is seeking compensatory damages including but not limited to back pay, lost wages, interest and other benefits of employment , punitive damages, costs of the suit etc.

Improvement Authority to Pick-Up the Tab

Chairman DeFilippo thru her attorneys DeCoitis, Fitzpatrick, Cole and Wisler has petitioned the court to dismiss the suit, RT has requested that the petition be denied and requested a change of venue, because according to papers, filed last week by his counsel Charlotte has a close relationship with State Senator Ray Lesniak and it is asserted that even the judge is politically connected. Charlotte DeFilippo’s legal fees were recently approved for payment by the Union County Improvement Authority, resolution #70-2007, which is a full roster of prominent Democratic Party members.

Fanelli case cost taxpayers over $2 Million out of pocket!!

This case will be one to watch as past history has shown that the freeholder board has spent millions defending it’s politically connected employees, such as in the Virginia Fanelli case which has cost taxpayers $2.4 million out of pocket and still is climbing.

An ironic twist to the situation is that RT says the harassment started when it was learned that he was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in ’06 and Mr. Devanney was well aware of that fact. If memory serves me correctly Devanney just released the information that he, himself, was blessed because his same cancer was caught at its earliest stages.

View lawsuit HERE
View change of venue request HERE
View resolution of UCIA to cover the cost of UC Democrat Committee Chairwoman legal fees HERE