On December 20, 2017, a former State Trooper, who sued the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) in 2005, finally settled his whistleblower and retaliation lawsuit for $1.4 million.
Brian Royster’s lawsuit, which has taken a circuitous route through the court system, was extensively covered by the media. Royster, who is black, claimed in his lawsuit that the NJSP denied him a promotion and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by transferring him from an office job to conduct surveillance in an automobile. Royster claimed that NJSP officials knew that the transfer did not accommodate his ulcerative colitis which requires him to be close to a restroom. His lawsuit also claimed that he suffered retaliation when he reported that the NJSP did not properly investigate racial discrimination claims and that troopers accused of wrongdoing were allowed to retire instead of being disciplined. He further claimed retaliation for reporting that white troopers were disciplined less severely than black troopers.
An Essex County jury awarded Royster $1.06 million in 2012 but this verdict was reversed and remanded by the Appellate Division on March 10, 2015. In its opinion, the three-judge panel found that the state was immune from Royster’s ADA claims and that several trial court errors required reversal of his Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA or Whistleblower) claims. In a January 17, 2017 opinion, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that “the interests of justice” required that Royster be allowed to reinstate his Law Against Disability (LAD) claim which had been waived before the trial court. The Supreme Court ultimately “molded” the jury’s verdict and directed the trial court to enter a $500,000 judgment (plus $97,083.33 in interest) in Royster’s favor on his LAD claim.
The $1.4 million settlement agreement appears to be in exchange for Royster’s dismissal of his CEPA claims which were not directly considered by the Supreme Court’s ruling. A stipulation of settlement which was filed on April 11, 2018 specifies that the $500,000 judgment is also resolved by the $1.4 million settlement. While it is not entirely clear, it appears that the $1.4 million amount is intended to replace the $500,000 judgement and not supplement it.
The lawsuit is is captioned Royster v. New Jersey State Police, et al, Docket No. ESX-L-7033-05 and Royster’s attorney is Michael J. Reimer of South Orange.
None of the the lawsuit’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 the NJSP or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Royster $1,400,00 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.