On August 4, 2021, Hudson County Community College paid $250,000 to its former vice president of administrative services who claimed that he was fired for blowing the whistle on alleged contract fraud involving college vendors.

In his lawsuit filed on June 13, 2016, Thomas Brodowski, who served as the college’s vice president of administrative services since January 2014, claimed that he found that several college contracts “would change after the contract was signed” which “resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of fraud being committed upon the college.” He claimed that John Torturelli, the director of facilities, “was involved in the contract fraud,” “took sick leave and then vacation leave for a year starting in or around July 2014” and ultimately resigned in June of 2015 after Brodowski began his investigation. Brodowski claimed that he objected to college officials’ attempts to reinstate Torturelli after his resignation.

Brodowski also claimed that a college contract was allegedly steered toward a construction company that was favored by College President Glen Gabert even though it had been awarded to a different company. Gabert allegedly “wanted to allow the bids to run out and allow all of the parties to re-bid the job.” According to Brodowski, the job was re-bid and the bids went to the college’s architectural advisory committee of which the company’s president, Ted Domuracki, was allegedly a member.

“[A]pproximately 130 of the 470 [faculty] contracts were inaccurate and faculty members were getting paid more than they should have,” according to Brodowski’s lawsuit. He claimed that this “was particularly the case with adjunct professors” who “were putting in for compensation for work that they either did not perform, or did not perform to the level that was required for them to be compensated.”

In September 2015, Gabert, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, approached Brodowski and asked him if he was taking his work vehicle home at night, according to the complaint. When Brodowski said that he was taking his vehicle home “because it was his understanding that he was permitted to do so,” he claimed that he was shortly thereafter suspended for “poor judgment” and then fired on November 25, 2015.

Brodowski believed that the college employed his vehicle usage as a pretext to fire him and that the real reason he was fired was because he blew the whistle on what he viewed as improper behavior by college officials and vendors. Hudson County Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Turula agreed with the college that the college’s prohibition against personal use of vehicles “was a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for . . . plaintiff’s ultimate termination” and granted the college’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Brodowski’s lawsuit.

Brodowski appealed and in a January 8, 2021 opinion, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Appellate Division reversed and reinstated the lawsuit. The Appellate Division judges carefully reviewed the evidence developed before the trial court and determined that Brodowski’s allegations regarding Torturelli were contested facts that should have been allowed to be determined at trial and not by way of a summary judgment motion. Similarly, the court found that Brodowski’s allegations about the construction company contract award were genuinely contested and were also not properly dismissed on summary judgment. Finally, the panel agreed with Judge Turula that Brodowski’s allegations regarding the faculty contracts “are factually inaccurate or unsupportable” and were properly dismissed.

Of the $250,000, Brodowski received $65,004.72 for his alleged “emotional distress” and another $65,004.72 for lost wages. The remaining $119,990.56 went to his attorney.

The case is captioned Thomas Brodowski v. Hudson County Community College, et al, Docket No. HUD-L-2418-16 and Brodowski’s attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

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 college employees, vendors or officials mentioned in the lawsuit, including Gabert, Domuracki and Torturelli. Brodowski’s allegations are just that–-unproven allegations. All that is known for sure is that Hudson County Community College or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brodowski $250,000 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 paff@pobox.com