CAPE MAY – Cape May City Council approved a $369,000 settlement Tuesday with former police officer Steven Pascal, who was terminated in 2013.
Pascal sued the City of Cape May, Capt. Robert Sheehan and others for wrongful dismissal and for a hostile work environment. Pascal claimed he was subjected to continual harassment by members of the police department because he was gay. He also claimed the city tolerated the harassment by members of the department and the public.
City Council went into closed session Tuesday, Oct. 18 and returned to pass Resolution 224-10-2016 to approve the settlement.
City solicitor Anthony Monzo said discussion of the settlement was scheduled a month ago, when council could have approved the settlement. However, he said a leak of information prior to City Council’s review of the settlement agreement made it difficult to respond. He blamed several individuals, but said he would not name them.
Sheehan’s attorney, Christopher Gray, issued a press release on the settlement, which Sheehan distributed at the Sept. 20 meeting.
Monzo said the Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) solicitor and new counsel assigned by the insurance carrier had reviewed the case file, and Monzo met with the attorneys. Monzo said as a result of the meeting, the JIF solicitor and the assigned counsel recommended the city settle the case under the terms that were made public by Gray and Sheehan, which involved dismissing complaints against Sheehan and the city, with no admission of guilt.
“They are absolved of any wrong doing in the settlement,” Monzo said.
Monzo said the settlement, which he recommended City Council accept, was for $369,000, with the city paying $50,000 of that amount. However, he said the city’s portion was being reviewed and it might be lowered.
Monzo said the case came about as the result of a termination hearing for Pascal in 2013. Pascal appealed 13 charges in the city’s case, and the hearing officer upheld 10 of the charges. Monzo said the hearing determined Pascal was unfit for duty and the city manager terminated Pascal at the recommendation of the hearing officer. Monzo said the termination was never a City Council decision.
Monzo said Pascal’s lawsuit was based on whether the city had an adequate basis to terminate him, and whether the work environment in the police department was in violation of laws on discrimination. He said the city’s position was there was no violation.
Monzo said the leaking of information on the settlement should not have happened before council had a chance to review the settlement, adding, “We should try to be careful not to release information until a settlement is approved.”
“The last thing you want is council reading about it before they even know about it,” Monzo said.
Monzo said, in all fairness to the plaintiff, who had been waiting an extra month for council to act, he was recommending the settlement agreement be adopted Tuesday.
Council voted 4-0 to approve the settlement with no discussion or comment. Councilwoman Terri Swain was absent from the closed session and did not vote.