A lawsuit filed in 2007 by the former executive director of the Bayonne Parking Authority against the city has been partially settled for in excess of $230,000.
Former Parking Authority Executive Director Peter Hilburn and Felicia Ryan, an executive secretary for the BPA, filed the suit against the city of Bayonne, former Mayor Joseph Doria, and other prominent city officials in U.S. District Court.
“We settled for monetary damages.” – Attorney Karen DeSoto
Hilburn, cooperating with the state Attorney General’s office on a probe of the BPA prior to being terminated, claims he was illegally terminated by the BPA after he revealed his role as a whistleblower.
Hilburn and Ryan were among a handful of Parking Authority employees terminated as part of what Parking Authority officials claimed was reorganization.
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 ticket fixing for city and school officials. Hilburn said he had gone to the state Attorney General to investigate the matter, and 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 claimed he told Peter Cresci, then 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.
As well as including Doria, the BPA, and Cresci, the suit also names Rocco Coviello, chairman of the BPA board; Michael Pierson, the vice chairman; Kathy Lo Re, former assistant director of the BPA; and the full board of commissioners.
Cresci and the others settled their cases last week, with the final paperwork being completed over the next few weeks.
When contacted for comment, Cresci, who has his own suit against the city on grounds that he was illegally terminated, said the settlement of this case will not affect his case against the city.
Insurance carrier opted for settlement, city says
In a statement issued by the office of Mayor Mark Smith, the city said the settlement partial settlement came at the best of the insurance carrier.
“A commercial insurance carrier for the Bayonne Parking Authority recently settled a wrongful termination suit that was brought by two former employees of the authority who were dismissed reportedly as part of a `reorganization’ of the authority conducted by the authority’s former General Counsel, Peter Cresci. The employees were terminated and the lawsuit was filed prior to Mark Smith becoming mayor,” the statement said. “While the insurance carrier for opted to settle the suit on behalf of the Parking Authority and Mr. Cresci, the city of Bayonne and former Mayor Joseph V. Doria refused to settle the case and are proceeding before the court with a motion to dismiss the matter for failure to present sufficient evidence to sustain the claim. Since the events supposedly occurred long before Mayor Smith took office, the current administration has no knowledge of what occurred or of what Mr. Cresci was trying to accomplish when he supposedly reorganized the Authority. The Insurance carrier’s actions are not an admission of wrong-doing, but rather represent a business decision on the part of that company regarding the cost of litigation. The authority is an independent corporate entity, with its own governance.”
City prevailed in earlier rulings
Two years ago, a court dismissed nine of the original 12 counts in the original case against the Parking Authority and the city, leaving only the question as to whether the Parking Authority retaliated against the two employees when they were terminated on July 16, 2007.
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.
“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, and did not have an employment contract, nor a union contract.”
The case has taken on other ramifications since. DeSoto recently filed a complaint with the court that some records concerning this case have been destroyed, and said she believed there was an attempt to do away with evidence that supported Hilburn’s allegations.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.