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NJ Civil Settlements

Deptford Township and its MUA paid out $175,000 to settle former in-house lawyer’s whistleblower lawsuit.

On October 30, 2016, Deptford Township (Gloucester County) and its Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a contract lawyer’s lawsuit that claimed she was retaliated against after reporting improper activities including misappropriated funds from a Township account  .

In her complaint, Maria DeTitto said that she entered into a written employment contract with the MUA under which she was to act as the MUA’s In-House Counsel, Human Resources Director and Compliance Officer through 2016.  She claimed that she was required to perform legal and other services for Deptford Township even though her employment contract didn’t permit additional duties to be assigned to her without her consent.  She claimed that she was given no guidance on how to fulfill the duties assigned to her and that her work product was shared with other attorneys “who would bill [Deptford Township] for work that [DeTitto] performed.” 

While her complaint is difficult to understand, it appears that DeTitto claimed that she was fired from the Township in 2013 and from the MUA on October 6, 2014.  She claimed that her termination from the MUA was rescinded after she complained that it was done in a way that violated her employment contract.

DeTitto claimed that she was suspended for six weeks in 2014 and required to undergo a psychological examination prior to being reinstated.  She said that this was done in retaliation for her having complained that her termination was unlawful.  She said that after reinstatement, she found that money was missing from the Township’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) account and that “the Township Solicitor improperly accepted funds from the COAH trust account for purposes that were not permitted.” 

She further claimed that even though she was the Human Resources Director, she was not allowed to fire an employee who was “involved in a work-related sexual harassment matter” and that the Deptford Township Mayor instructed the MUA Executive Director to have the Township Solicitor handle the matter instead.  She said that the same employee was later involved in “an off-duty altercation” during which that employee brandished a gun.

Of the $175,000 settlement, DeTitto received $125,000 and her lawyer received $50,000.

The case is captioned DeTitto v. Deptford MUA, et al, Gloucester County Superior Court Docket No. GLO-L-1370-15 and DeTitto’s attorney was Jacqueline M. Vigilante of Mullica Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of DeTitto’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DeTitto $175,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision 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 resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project