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EX-PUBLIC WORKS DIRECTOR WINS SETTLEMENT IN LAWSUIT AGAINST TOWNSHIP OF JACKSON, ALLEGING UNION ACTIVISM LED TO RETALIATION AND TERMINATION




After Judge James Den Uyl refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the Township of Jackson by Fred Rasiewicz, the Township's former Director of Public Works, which alleges that he was pushed out by Township officials, including Mayor Reina, for legally pursuing formation of a union to represent management employees, Township attorneys immediately rushed to settle the suit in order to avoid trial where punitive damages - from Reina and Business Manager Wall personally - could be awarded.


The settlement has just now been finalized, FAA News has learned. Accordingly, the upcoming trial has been canceled.


According to his Complaint, filed in March 2021 in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County by Edison Attorney Steven D. Cahn Esq.:


Rasiewicz was terminated on May 1, 2020, at the age of 72.


Previously, in 2015, he legally pursued forming a local management union to represent management employees of the Township. Township officials including Mayor Reina actively opposed these efforts.


The formation of the union was successful and Rasiewicz was elected president, a position which he held until his employment was terminated.


As president of the union, he engaged in various union activities, including representing various employees in labor management issues, including filing grievances, negotiation of various employee and labor disputes, and opposing policies created by the Township which he believed in good faith to be a violation of the law of public policy and/or Township ordinance.


As a result of him engaging in these lawful activities, Township officials began to engage in a pattern of unlawful harassment against him.


These actions were unlawful and created a harassing and hostile work environment.


The unlawful and harassing conduct was directed at Rasiewicz in retaliation for him performing his responsibilities as Union President, and in retaliation of him opposing unlawful employment practices on the part of the Township officials.


Additionally, the unlawful and harassing conduct was directed at him due to his age.


In March 2020, Rasiewicz was advised that he was to be terminated from his position.


Rasiewicz's complaint asserts 4 counts against the Township, Mayor Reina and the Township Manager.


The first count alleges that the termination of his employment, which is an essential position, was unlawful and a violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).


The second count alleges that the retaliation against Rasiewicz's legal union activities, and his subsequent termination, was a violation of the clear mandate of public policy.


The third count alleges that the termination was due to his age and this is a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).


The fourth count alleges that Mayor Reina met and conspired with other officials to plan, aid, abet, and/or encourage participation in the unlawful retaliatory and discriminatory conduct directed at Rasiewicz, in violation of both the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.


The suit contends that the unlawful harassment and termination has caused Rasiewicz to suffer damages including severe physical and emotional distress, economic damages including lost wages, benefits, and severe emotional trauma and anxiety caused by the uncertainty of his employment situation, family, and social disruption as well as other personal injuries.


The lawsuit seeks judgement a) ordering the defendants to reinstate Rasiewicz with full back pay and benefits, b) compensatory damages, c) punitive damages, d) damages including personal hardship, economic loss, physical and emotional stress, severe emotional trauma and anxiety caused by the uncertainty of this employment controversy, family and social disruption and other personal injuries, e) costs and attorney's fees, f) an order declaring that the defendants have violated of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, and requiring them to take appropriate corrective action to end discrimination in the work place, and g) for any other relief as the Court may deem equitable and just.


On July 12, 2021, Ocean County Superior Court Judge James Den Uyl denied the Township's motion to dismiss, which was based on that the Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted (Judge Uyl pointed out that the lawsuit clearly states a claim that "plaintiff as the Union President engaged in various union activities and specifically "opposed various employment practices on the part of the defendants including but not limited to opposing policies created by the defendants that the plaintiff believed in good faith were unlawful and/or a violation of law, public policy or ordinances of the Township of Jackson." Plaintiff further states that as a direct result of engaging in "good faith opposition to unlawful employment activities on the part of the Township," he was retaliated against. This retaliation included ultimately the plaintiff’s termination on May 1, 2020.


Since the time of the denial of the motion to dismiss, the litigation continued with mediation sessions and discovery, including court ordered depositions of Mayor Reina and the Township Manager.


Months ago, Township Attorney Kevin B. Riordan Esq. filed a new motion for summary judgement, asserting that the Township terminated Rasiewicz simply to cut administrative costs.


Rasiewicz's attorney filed opposition to the motion, asserting that the termination was in retaliation of lawfully forming the union, and not just to cut costs in the regular course of business.


Following oral arguments on the matter, Judge Den Uyl denied the Township's motion, finding that shortly after firing Rasiewicz, Township officials replaced him with someone substantially younger - at the same salary. Accordingly, the judge dismissed the Township's argument that they fired Rasiewicz in the regular course of business simply to cut costs.


Seeing that the judge found that Rasiewicz had established a prima facie case, and they were heading to a trial where the judge would set the amount of compensation the Township owes Rasiewicz, the Township's attorney wisely decided to come to a settlement with Rasiewicz.


Accordingly, back in February, the parties notified the judge that they had reached a settlement and therefore no trial was needed on the case.


However, subsequently, the Township Council faltered and did not agree to sign the settlement. Accordingly, Judge Den Uyl rescheduled the matter for trial.


Prior to the scheduled trial, Rasiewicz's attorney spelled out the fact that he will be seeking punitive damages not only from the Township, but also from Mayor Reina and Mr. Wall personally.


This threat worked wonders. The Township has finally signed onto the out of court settlement. The trial has been canceled.


The Township remains in litigation with Daniel Burke, another former employee who was fired after supporting union formation.


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