Two attorneys with experience representing whistleblowers say the city’s decision to settle a case brought by its former chief financial officer may be wise, given the risks of proceeding to trial.
On Wednesday, the city council will vote on whether to approve a $325,000 settlement of a case brought by Jersey City’s former chief financial officer Lubna Muneer.
Muneer claimed that in February 2020, she was fired by Business Administrator John Metro after refusing to falsify an annual financial statement for the state Division of Local Government Services. Metro, she said, wanted her to file the report despite the fact that the necessary bookkeeping had not been finished.
Shortly after Muneer made the charge, Mayor Fulop told the Jersey Journal that Muneer had been fired for cause. “The facts are that she was terminated for poor performance that was documented over a long period of time…at no point did she make any accusations of any wrongdoing while she worked here.”
Jeffrey G. Garrigan, a Jersey City attorney who handles employment cases doesn’t think the size of the settlement says anything about the strength of Muneer’s case. “A lot of time these cases settle for higher than nuisance value mainly because if the city was ever hit with verdict after trial they would be responsible, not only to pay their own attorneys but pay the plaintiff’s attorney as well.”
To Montclair attorney Ty Hyderally, who has sued Jersey City on multiple occasions on behalf of former employees but emphasized that he had no specific knowledge of Muneer’s case, the settlement may make sense.
“These cases are extremely expensive with regard to legal fees and costs.” Under New Jersey law, by going to trial the city would be exposed to punitive damages without a cap, damages for emotional distress and the payment of plaintiff’s attorneys fees, he noted.
The settlement, said Hyderally, doesn’t necessarily indicated that Muneer had a strong case. Rather than go to trial, “it may actually be a responsible move by the city to put the citizens of the city above the litigation.”
Indeed, the agreement provides that it “does not constitute an admission of liability” by the city. In addition, both plaintiff and defendants agree not to disparage each other.
In Hyderally’s own experience, Jersey City has sometimes been too tough an opponent and should have settled cases earlier to save taxpayer money. He added, however, that “in the past five years or so I have certainly noticed a trend in a positive direction where the city tends to be more responsible to the citizens.”