Lawsuit threatened over township job

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MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Middle Township may end up getting sued over apparently trying to avoid getting sued.

A former Galloway Township clerk is alleging Middle Township officials did not interview her for a position in the Township Clerk’s office because she filed a lawsuit of harassment, retaliation and discrimination against her previous employer, according to a tort notice.

Tilton’s attorney, Steven R. Srenaski of Phillipsburg, sent the notice Oct. 31 to Middle Township officials. It’s a required first step before a lawsuit can be filed against a municipality, although a tort notice does not always result in a lawsuit.

Lisa Tilton resigned as Galloway Township clerk in October, 2011. According to published reports, the resignation came as part of a settlement agreement with Galloway Township officials, but in May of this year, she filed suit against the township alleging that the settlement agreement had been breached. She asked for damages, attorney fees, costs and her job back. The suit alleged harassment, retaliation and discrimination.

A story in the Gazette’s sister publication, The Current of Galloway Township, states that the lawsuit did not seek specific damages, but it appeared to cover three separate torts filed, two for $3 million each and a third with no dollar figure.

In the spring, she applied for deputy clerk and registrar of vital statistics positions in Middle Township.

According to the tort notice, township officials did not interview her for the job because of Tilton's civil suit against Galloway.

It appears that part of the reason the township did not interview her was out of concern there could be a lawsuit if she did not then get the job, according to emails sent between township officials.

"Ms. Tilton was the most qualified applicant for these positions but was unlawfully barred from consideration for employment by the township and denied equal employment opportunities by virtue of her having sought legal redress against her former employer under New Jersey and Federal law," reads the tort notice, a copy of which was released by Barbara Cresse of the Middle Township Taxpayers Association.

The tort notice says she was chosen by township employees "as being on the 'short list' of candidates for employment” and it goes on to reference township officials and employees communicating about Tilton's civil suit.

One township employee also "proposed giving Ms. Tilton a sham interview for the express purpose of covering up their discriminatory actions,” the tort notice alleges.

There is no specific dollar amount mentioned in the tort notice, which states “Amount presently claimed: unknown at this time.” However, the notice indicates an intention to seek attorney fees, compensatory damages, punitive damages and other damages.

Earlier this year, Township Committee hired Suzanne Stocker as deputy township clerk, and members also named township clerk Kim Krauss as registrar of vital statistics, replacing Bonnie Millard, who retired.

Middle Township officials did not want to talk about the tort notice.

Township attorney Marcus Karavan could not be reached by presstime, and Middle Township Mayor Dan Lockwood declined to comment, and said no one from the township would speak about the matter, either.

Tilton’s lawyer Srenaski of Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader of Phillipsburg did not respond to a request for comment.

Named in the tort notice are business administrator Mark Mallett, Mayor Dan Lockwood, Committeeman Tim Donohue, Committeewoman Susan DeLanzo, municipal clerk Kim Krauss, personnel director Vera Kalish and former township elected officials.

In emails provided to The Gazette from Cresse, Middle Township business administrator Mark Mallett expressed concern about Tilton’s suit against Galloway and provided a link to a story from The Press of Atlantic City about the suit.

Township Clerk Kim Krauss, in an email to committee members, indicated that of the 60 resumes received, three had the needed certification for the job, and a fourth was eligible to take the exam for certification. She indicates that she wanted to set up interviews with each, and to contact others with municipal experience. In the emails, she lists Tilton as an experienced applicant, among others, but speaks highly of another interviewee, who did not ultimately get the job.

Mallett recommended that Tilton not be interviewed as deputy township clerk.

Krauss replied to Mallett on Aug. 6, saying, "I saw that as well. I've discussed this with committee, however I am unsure if we could discriminate based on this. NOT SAYING I believe we should hire Ms. Tilton, however giving an interview may cover our bases and protect us again [sic] any later ramification. We can hire whoever we want but this way we can at least say we gave her an opportunity."

Mallet indicates that it would not be discrimination based on any characteristic protected by law, and expresses concern that if she is interviewed, that could mean a lawsuit if she were not offered the job. He said she was terminated by Galloway, and then reached a settlement under which she resigned.

“I look at it from the perspective that by interviewing her, we are opening the door to potential litigation if she is interviewed and not hired and then claims she was the most qualified candidate,” he writes in an email also dated Aug. 6. “Just my thoughts – committee makes the call.”

All three Township Committee members were copied on the emails, according to documents obtained by The Gazette.

The emails could not be independently confirmed by presstime this week. Township Clerk Krauss did not respond to an email. On Tuesday, The Gazette also submitted an Open Public Records Act request seeking the emails and the original tort notice.

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