On October 29, 2010, the Township of Fairfield (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $72,500 to a African-American man who sued Fairfield Township for allegedly wrongfully discharging him from Township employment.

In his suit, Wayne Thomas Byrd, who had been employed by the Township since 2004, said that he had been consistently harassed, belittled and called racial slurs by co-worker William Ridgeway who Byrd claimed to be “very well politically connected and . . . good friends with the [then] business administrator of the township, one Richard DeVillasanta.”

Byrd said that he suffered a heart attack in May 2007 and returned to work on September 8, 2008, after a long period of recovery.  When he returned to work, he claimed he was only on the job for an hour and a half before being told to leave.  Being told to leave, according to the complaint, “effectuated a discharge for all practical purposes.”

Byrd claims that he repeatedly complained about Ridgeway to Nathan Dunn, his supervisor, and then mayor Marion Kennedy, Jr., but they would only “talk to Ridgeway” which would cause him to “soften his harassment for a short period of time.”

The case is captioned Byrd v. Fairfield, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-1027-08 and Byrd’s attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Cherry Hill.  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 Byrd’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $72,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Fairfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Fairfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Byrd $72,500 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]