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New Jersey worker heads back to court after settlement’s tossed

Bergen County employees know that being a troublemaker on the job can get you fired. However, there's a difference between a chronic complainer and an employee with a legitimate claim about harassment or workplace discrimination.

New Jersey employers may not retaliate against workers who take discrimination complaints to upper levels of a company or to outside investigators. Retaliation can include firing, a reduction in pay, a demotion or reassignment - anything negatively impacting an employee's standing that is otherwise not deserved.

Hoboken's former public safety director brought a retaliation and ethnic discrimination lawsuit against the city and the mayor. A jury recently ruled that the mayor was not at fault but ordered the city to pay the ex-official $440,000 in back pay. The court was preparing to hear arguments about punitive damages, when a tentative settlement was reached.

The public safety director was appointed in 2009 by the former mayor to work part-time for the City of Hoboken. The mayor was replaced, after he was arrested and charged along with 45 other New Jersey officials during a long-term federal corruption investigation.

The plaintiff stated he was forced to leave is job in 2011, after speaking up about improper behavior in the city's police department. The former official said the act was a retaliatory termination. The mayor said the official's resignation was requested, because the public safety director lied to her about talking to an informant working with corruption investigators.

The tentative, undisclosed settlement for punitive damages was rejected by Hoboken City Council. The case will now pick up where it left off in civil court. A jury will make the final determination about the plaintiff's rights to further compensation.

An employment law attorney is a valuable resource, when employees feel they have nowhere within an employer's organization to turn. Lawyers can provide guidance when workers aren't sure whether they qualify as victims of workplace wrongdoing.

Source: The Jersey Journal, "Hoboken, ex-official Alicea, tenatively agree on punitive damages in discrimination case" Jonathan Lin, Dec. 21, 2013

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