Schorr & Associates’ Employment Case of The Week ending January 15, 2016

Borough of Bogota v. Tasca, docket no. BER-L-9178-12, $2.5 Million Settlement announced January 6, 2016.

By Alan Schorr

A lawsuit for repayment of wages against a terminated employee backfired in a big way, resulting in a $2.5 million settlement in favor of the employee.

Police Officer Regina Tasca was the first and only female police officer employed by the Borough of Bogota.  She claimed she experienced severe harassment by her fellow officers. Bogota eventually suspended and then fired her, alleging that she had violated police department rules.  Officer Tasca denied the charges and claimed that she had been harassed and discriminated against due to her gender and sexual orientation and retaliated against due to her objections to the harassment.

Bogota suspended Officer Tasca with pay in May 2011 and later held an internal hearing with a retired judge.  The internal hearing upheld the termination.  Then Bogota made its first big mistake.  Bogota sued Tasca to recover the monies paid to Tasca during the suspension.  Tasca responded with a Federal discrimination and retaliation suit, then dismissed that action in favor of a counterclaim in the State Court case.

In March 2015, Bergen County Judge  Rachelle L. Harz ruled that the termination of Officer Tasca was invalid due to numerous conflicts of interest by the Bogota Mayor and Council.  Borough of Bogota v. Tasca, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 891 (March 12, 2015).  Judge Harz ordered the Borough to compensate Tasca with back pay and benefits for her time away from the force – Bogota agreed to pay more than $300,000 — and ordered that Tasca be reinstated.  Bogota put her back on payroll but refused to allow her to work.

Then in April 2015, the Appellate Division ruled that the issue of Tasca’s disciplinary appeal could be heard simultaneously with the jury trial on retaliation.  Borough of Bogota v. Tasca, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 965 (App. Div. April 27, 2015).  That decision was based upon the Supreme Court decision in Winters v. North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, 212 N.J. 67 (2012).  The matter was scheduled for a trial in Fall 2015, but the parties began negotiations and eventually came to a settlement this past week.

Officer Tasca agreed to resign and will receive a total of $1.1 million over 20 years.  The balance of the settlement is counsel fees.  Public employers should pay careful attention to these cases.  Over the past few years there have been numerous multi-million verdicts and settlements involving retaliation claims against public employees.

Plaintiff’s attorneys: Catherine Elston and Jonathan I. Nirenberg,  Rabner Allcorn Baumgart & Ben-Asher PC.

Defendant’s attorneys: Robert J. Mancinelli, Douglas M. Bern, Beth L. Barnhard and Andrew P. Bolson,   Rubenstein, Meyerson, Fox, Mancinelli, Conte & Bern, P.A.