Whistleblower suit vs. Parking Authority hits snag

Former employees, director filed for ‘wrongful termination,’

A court has dismissed nine of the original 12 counts in a wrongful termination lawsuit by two former employees of the Bayonne Parking Authority against the agency and the city.
Former Parking Authority Executive Director Peter Hilburn and another employee filed the suit in October of 2007 against the City of Bayonne, former Mayor Joseph Doria, and other prominent city officials in U.S. District Court, alleging a variety of charges.
District Court Judge Dennis Cavanaugh dismissed most of the counts after a conference last week, leaving only the question as to whether the Parking Authority retaliated against the two employees when they were terminated on July 16, 2007.
According to a report from the court, the claims dismissed include: workers’ compensation; New Jersey Law Against Discrimination claims (age, retaliation); breach of contract; tortuous interference of contract; negligent termination; and most of the federal section 1983 claims (except for retaliation, as discussed above).
Hilburn had been cooperating with a state attorney general investigation of the agency before he was terminated.

Been served?

Meanwhile, attorney Karen DeSoto – who is representing the two employees – has submitted a motion of default, complaining that one or more of the defendants avoided being served.
Because nine of the original 12 complaints have been dismissed by the court, city officials claim DeSoto has begun a legal maneuver to win the case by her saying that two of the defendants, former Mayor Joseph Doria and former Parking Authority Assistant Director Kathy Lo Re, have not responded to legal notifications.
Former City Law Director Jay Coffey, who is currently the attorney of record for the city, said DeSoto failed to properly notify both Doria and Lo Re, and has filed a motion with the court to dismiss the motion for default.


“Giving the notice to the city clerk when Doria is no longer mayor does not constitute proper notification.” – Jay Coffey

Hilburn is suing Doria both as mayor and as an individual. DeSoto said notice was issued to the city clerk, but Doria has failed to comply.
“We have served Doria twice, and he refuses to respond,” DeSoto said.
The suit, filed by Hilburn and Felicia Ryan, names the Bayonne Parking Authority, Doria, the City of Bayonne, former Parking Authority Attorney Peter Cresci, Lo Re, former Parking Authority Chairman Rocco Coviello, all 10 Parking Authority commissioners as constituted in 2007, and Bayonne High School Athletic Director Michael Pierson.
On May 21, the city petitioned the court to set aside the default motion, saying that DeSoto failed to issue proper notification.
Coffey said the notice was issued in December 2007 to the city clerk’s office, more than two months after Doria ceased being mayor of the city.
“Giving the notice to the city clerk when Doria is no longer mayor does not constitute proper notification,” Coffey said. “As for Kathy Lo Re, she moved out of state.”
DeSoto, however, said Doria has failed to respond to a letter notice that was issued to his Bayonne residence, and hopes to force the issue by asking the court to declare Doria and Lo Re in default.
Apparently, DeSoto attempted to serve them through the city clerk after both Doria and Lo Re had left employment with the city and the Parking Authority.
“I don’t understand any of this,” DeSoto said. “All they have to do is respond. But they don’t seem to want to testify.”
City officials said the question remains as to whether or not two of the defendants, former Mayor Joseph Doria and Parking Authority Assistant Director Kathy Lo Re (sister of Council President Vincent Lo Re), were properly served by the plaintiffs’ attorney. If not, they will be dismissed from the lawsuit.

A whistleblower

The city has argued in its defense that all members of the Parking Authority management team were let go because the management had become dysfunctional.
Hilburn, cooperating with a state attorney general’s office on a probe of the BPA, claims he was illegally terminated by the BPA after he revealed his role as a whistleblower.
The suit claims that Hilburn and Felicia Ryan, an executive secretary for the Parking Authority, as well as others were among a handful of Parking Authority employees terminated as part of what Parking Authority officials claim was reorganization during the summer of 2007.
But Hilburn, for months prior to his termination, told the “Bayonne Community News” that he was concerned about questionable activities in the Parking Authority, including alleged ticket fixing for city and school officials.
Hilburn said he had gone to the state attorney general to investigate the matter. In the months leading up to his termination, Hilburn expressed the fear that he would become a target for this cooperation.
In the suit filed jointly with Ryan, Hilburn claims he told Peter Cresci, assistant corporation counsel for the city of Bayonne, that he was working as a whistleblower. The suit alleges that Cresci informed then Mayor Doria, after which Hilburn and Ryan were terminated.
“Lo Re and Ryan never made a protected communication to state officials, and we did not know Hilburn had contacted the state officials until after he was terminated,” said one city official who asked not to be identified. “So I think the issue fails from that perspective. Keep in mind these jobs were not civil service, did not have an employment contract, nor a union contract.”

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group