On March 7, 2023, the County of Salem (New Jersey) settled a road worker’s racial discrimination lawsuit for $37,500 making it the third time the County has settled with this same employee since 2015.

In his most recent lawsuit, filed on January 26, 2022, Grady Butts, an African-American public works employee with Salem County, repeated, as background information, the essential allegations contained in his 2018 lawsuit, details of which are available here. However, Butts also claimed additional instances of racial discrimination that occurred after his previous lawsuit settled for $75,000 in September 2019.

For example, Butts claimed that his supervisor attempted to promote him to “Road Repair 3” in 2020 but that Salem County seniour officials blocked that attempt by failing to process his promotion paperwork. Instead, Butts claimed that the County appointed him to an acting assistant supervisor position that increased his responsibilities but caused him to lose a 6% salary increase he enjoyed in his previous position.

Butts claimed that his direct supervisor’s repeated efforts to have him promoted were rebuffed by senior County officials. Those officials allegedly wanted an outside hire to fill the position Butts sought. During the time that the position remained open, Butts claimed that he performed the position’s duties without being compensated and without receiving a work phone, a work vehicle and other benefits that usually go with the position.

County officials ultimately relented and advised Butts that his promotion paperwork was submitted, according to the lawsuit. However, when Butts checked with the Civil Service Commission several months later, he claimed that he was told that the paperwork was not submitted. In addition, paperwork that the County’s Human Resources Department said was submitted was not, according to Butts, the same paperwork that he was previously advised would be submitted.

Butts claimed that he was being retaliated against because of his race and history of complaints. He stated that white employees, including an employee who allegedly directed racial slurs at him, were promoted without issue.

Of the $37,500 settlement, Butts and his attorney received $19,170.94 and $18,329.09 respectively. In sum, the County’s settlements with Butts, in order were a) $6,000 to settle his 2014 complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil rights, b) $75,000 to settle his 2018 lawsuit and c) $37,500 to settle his 2022 lawsuit. The total for all three settlements is $118,500.

According to Salem County’s April 4, 2023 response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Butts currently works as an Assistant Supervisor of Public Works at a full time, hourly salary of $28.86 plus overtime.

The 2022 case is captioned Grady Butts v. Salem County, Docket No. SLM-L-20-22 and Butts’ attorney was Greg Zeff of Mt. Laurel. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Butts’ 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 Salem County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Butts $37,500 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 [email protected]