On April 6, 2016, the Borough of Tuckerton (Ocean County) agreed to pay $65,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former female volunteer firefighter who claimed that senior fire company officials retaliated against her after a Fire Captain, who was the Fire Chief’s son, broke off an “intimate relationship” with her.
According to her lawsuit, Janette Dominski, who became a probationary member of the Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Company in the Fall of 2012, began an “intimate relationship” in December 2012 with Lewis E. Eggert, Jr. who was a Fire Captain and son of Fire Chief Lewis E. Eggert, Sr. “Despite their agreement to keep their intimate relationship separate from their positions with [the] Fire Company, on or about December 30, 2012, Captain Eggert kissed [Dominski] while at the fire house where he pushed Plaintiff against the fire truck,” according to the lawsuit.
Dominski claimed that Captain Eggert “became distant” with her in January 2013 and told her “that they should end their relationship because he did not want to put [Dominski] through what his family put his ex-girlfriend Hannah through.” According to the civil complaint, Hannah was a former member of the fire company “and was forced out . . very similar to the way [Dominski] was ultimately forced to leave.” Captain Eggert, who lived with his parents at the time, told Dominski that he had a conversation with his father about the “Hannah situation” and wanted to “spare her,” according to the complaint.
Shortly after their relationship ended, Dominski claimed that Captain Eggert “clearly threatened” her position and that photographs that she had taken of a fire scene and shared with her Facebook friends “became an issue.” The photos were of a December 18, 2012 fire at Mystic Island. Fire Company President Charles Uhl told her at the time that she could not take pictures because they “were at a potential crime scene” but that Dale Eggert, who was senior to Dominski, “shrugged it off” when Dominski told him about the photos, according to the lawsuit. Dominski claimed that she did remove the photos from her Facebook account after speaking with Dale Eggert. Dominski alleged that on January 18, 2013, Chief Eggert sent her an e-mail telling her that her photo-taking was “a dead issue. Nothing was done wrong.”
On January 31, 2013, Dominski said that she was accused by Captain Eggert, President Uhl and others of attending a Fire Academy graduation when she was actually standing by at the fire station studying for her classes. When she denied that she attended the graduation, Captain Eggert, President Uhl and the others “continued to bully and humiliate” her. Eggert allegedly told her that she “had become quiet and secretive” and was “going to be out.”
According to the lawsuit, Dominski was relieved of her duties by Chief Eggert after his son, Captain Eggert, told him that she “had symptoms of asthma in cold weather in the past and that this information was not noted on her member application.” Dominski claimed that she did indeed have such symptoms as a child but hadn’t suffered from them in years and that her doctor, who knew about her past asthma, didn’t list those symptoms on her membership application because it was so long ago.
Dominski claimed that she was required to undergo a second medical examination at her own expense. She alleged that no other member was required to undergo a second exam except for Hannah, who allegedly also had an intimate relationship with Captain Eggert and left the department because of harassment she suffered.
When she complained about the harassment to Chief Eggert, he summoned her to a February 3, 2013 meeting and told her that “he was upset with his son and found it dishonest that he did not learn about [his son’s] relationship [with Dominski] sooner.” Because he was upset, Chief Eggert allegedly said that he “had changed his mind about the” fire scene photos that Dominski had taken in December and threatened to bring charges against her. Eggert allegedly told Dominski that she would be “bounced” at the next firehouse meeting.
According to the lawsuit, Uhl conducted a hearing regarding disciplinary charges brought against Dominski at the March 5, 2013 meeting. The hearing, which Dominski described as a “kangaroo court,” resulted in the continuance of Dominski’s suspension and a one-year extension of her probationary period.
In June 2013, Dominski claimed that there was a notice taped to her gear locker that read “JANETTE DOMINSKI LEAVE THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY AND DO NOT RETURN UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Lee Eggert, Chief.” After seeing the notice and returning home, Dominski claimed that a police officer was at her house who informed her that she may have violated the law by possessing a prescription inhaler that Dominski had claimed belonged to her son. Chief Eggert had called police after he “saw an inhaler in [her] equipment bag . . . that had an old expiration date and had no prescription label,” according to the lawsuit. In a letter, Chief Eggert allegedly informed Dominski that she was “terminated from membership in the Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 effective immediately.”
The case is captioned Dominski v. Borough of Tuckerton, et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-2952-14 and Dominski’s attorney was Sebastian B. Ionno of Pitman. Case documents are on-line here.
Of the $65,000 settlement, Dominski received $38,324.56 and her attorney received the remaining $26,675.44. Tuckerton also agreed to pay an undetermined amount of mediation costs.
Dominski also agreed to “simply state that the matter is resolved and dismissed and that she has no further comment” if “she is contacted by any member of the news media or any third party seeking comment on the status of the litigation and the settlement herein.” She also agreed to not “seek in any way to be reinstated, re-employed or hired by the Defendants in the future.”
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 Tuckerton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dominski $65,000 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.
(Note: Dominski’s lawsuit was mentioned in another lawsuit filed against the Tuckerton Fire Company that is reported on here.)