On March 16, 2011, the City of Vineland (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $375,000 to a City employee who claimed that he was not transferred to a job he was able to perform.

In his suit, Ryan M. Asselta, who had been employed by the City’s Electric Utilities Department since 1988, claims to have suffered a serious work-related spinal injury on March 2, 2005.  After about a year of recovery, Asselta said that he sought to return to work for the City in a different capacity since he was no longer able to work at his former job–an electrical lineman.  He claims that despite the availability of meter reading job, he was not given that job even though he was medically fit to perform it.  In addition to his discrimination claims, Asselta claimed that the City’s refusal to re-hire him was in retaliation for him having filed Workers Compensation claims.

The settlement agreement requires Asselta to agree not to ever again seek employment from the City of Vineland.

The case is captioned Asselta v. Vineland, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-294-07 and Asselta’s attorney was Christine P. O’Hearn of Westmont.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Asselta’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $375,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Vineland or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Vineland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Asselta $375,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]