On April 26, 2022, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners resolved to pay $315,000 to settle a 2019 lawsuit filed by a former County corrections officer who claimed that he was unlawfully fired in retaliation for suffering a workplace injury and claiming worker’s compensation benefits.

In his lawsuit, Ioannis Frangomihalos of Vineland claimed that he injured his right knee on July 7, 2017 while performing a “vertical jump” test as part of his corrections officer training. He claimed that the injury was witnessed by several coworkers and captured on a video recording taken by Sergeant William Holbrook. Frangomihalos reported the injury to Sergeant John Fazzolari who said he would fill out an incident report on his behalf, according to the lawsuit.

Frangomihalos claimed that weeks passed without Fazzolari completing the incident report and that he “could not get his right knee examined until an incident report was filed.” While waiting, he continued to work but with “a severe limp and pain,” he said. When he asked Fazzolari for an update on the incident report’s progress, Fazzolari allegedly told him that he (Fazzolari) was waiting for Frangomihalos to complete the report.

Frangomihalos ultimately filed his own report on August 16, 2017. A doctor thereafter recommended knee surgery and had Frangomihalos assigned to light duty. According to the lawsuit, the county would not approve his surgery despite two months elapsing after the doctor’s recommendation.

Frangomihalos alleged that on November 9, 2017, he was informed by Human Resources that he had to take a physical examination on November 14, 2017 despite his knee injury. When he told the HR representative that the injury prevented him from taking the physical, he was reportedly told that the HR department “cannot reschedule anyone at this point.”

Frangomihalos claimed that he went to the November 14, 2017 physical “because he feared that if he did not do it, he would be fired.” He failed the physical and on December 11, 2017 he filed a worker’s compensation claim seeking benefits to allow him to get the surgery.

Frangomihalos said that on January 9, 2018 he was ordered to attend a meeting with Craig Atkinson, the County’s Director of Personnel and Human Resources. A union representative was supposed to accompany him to the meeting but failed to appear. Atkinson met with Frangomihalos, despite him not having union representation, and told him that he “was terminating [Frangomihalos’] employment because his right knee injuries did not happen while he was working,” according to the complaint.

Attached to Frangomihalos’ lawsuit was a November 26, 2018 order by a worker’s compensation judge holding that his knee injury was “causally related to the workplace accident.” The order also required the county to pay temporary benefits and to provide the recommended treatment.

Out of the $315,000 settlement, $189,978.83 came from county funds while the remaining $125,021.17 came from the county’s insurance carrier.

The case is captioned Ioannis Frangomihalos v. Cumberland County Department of Corrections, Docket No. CUM-L-771-19 and Frangomihalos’ attorney was Anthony J. Leonard of Mount Holly. The civil complaint and County resolution are on-line here. The settlement agreement is on-line here.

None of Frangomihalos’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 named in the lawsuit. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Frangomihalos $315,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle 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 settle 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