On February 26, 2018, the Mansfield Township Ambulance Corps (Burlington County) agreed to pay $195,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former employee who claimed that her boss grabbed her vaginal area during an employee social event.

In her lawsuit, Michele Drangula, an Emergency Medical Technician with the ambulance corps, claimed that during a March 2015 employee social event at Nooks Pourhouse in Florence, Ryan Lewis, the corps’ overall supervisor, came over to her table and “physically grabbed [her] vaginal area.”  Drangula’s lawsuit claimed that even after she protested this “unwanted and horribly inappropriate” conduct, “Lewis continued to attempt to grab [her] vaginal area.” Drangula claimed that she did not report Lewis because of fear of retaliation.

She claimed that after this alleged incident, Lewis began to harass her in the workplace by making lewd and sexually charged comments.  On October 27, 2016, there was another staff social event at O’Connor’s American Bar and Grille in Eastampton at which Lewis, according to the lawsuit, demanded that Drangula give him a ride home.  She alleged that she “felt powerless to refuse the supervisor a ride home.”  When they arrived at Lewis’ home, Drangula claimed that he said “I want you to pull out of the driveway so I can f**k you.”  After Drangula protested and tried to get Lewis out of the vehicle, he allegedly said “I remember what your pu**y felt like and wanted to play with it again.”  When she shouted “GET OUT!,” Lewis allegedly responded “So, you’re not cool with this?”  Drangula said that her shouting worked to get Lewis to leave the vehicle “likely [because he] feared awakening his wife and children in his home.”

Drangula claimed that Lewis’ pervasive harassment forced her to resign on January 14, 2017.

Of the $195,000, Drangula received $128,666.67 and her attorney received the remainder.

The case is captioned Drangula v. Mansfield Township Ambulance Corps, et al, Docket No, BUR-L-1096-17 and Drangula’s attorney was Patrick F. Carrigg of Lawrenceville.  Case documents are on-line here.

In her response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the settlement agreement, Mansfield Township Clerk Linda Semus wrote that “although the Ambulance Corp is a not-for-profit organization, the Township’s Joint Insurance Fund provided coverage.”

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 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 Mansfield Ambulance Corps or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Drangula $195,000 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.

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