The Kearny Board of Education has agreed to settle a tort claim for wrongful termination brought by maintenance employee Brian Doran, who was fired in the fall of 2013 but returned to work last month.
At its May 18 meeting, the board ratified a recommendation by its attorneys to pay a total of $131,698, of which $99,898 goes for back pay for the period September 2013 to April 2015, $15,000 for medical coverage reimbursement and $16,800 for Doran’s legal fees, according to BOE attorney Ken Lindenfelser.
Lindenfelser said the settlement was reached after “ongoing negotiations” between the BOE’s special counsel Genova, Burns, Giantomasi & Webster of Jersey City, in consultation with himself, and the litigant’s attorney Matthew Doran.
Asked how much the board had paid its own lawyers, Lindenfelser said that would be difficult to answer without taking time to sift through the monthly billings submitted by Genova Burns and himself during the year and half of negotiations.
Doran, who had been working for the BOE since January 2004 and who had achieved tenure rights to his job, was ordered suspended with pay by the BOE in 2013, pending tenure charges, after the state Commissioner of Education ruled he should be disqualified based on his criminal record dating from guilty pleas to DUI and marijuana use in 1993 and 1995 – charges expunged in October 2013.
But, on Sept. 24, 2013, the then-Superintendent Frank Ferraro fired Doran without seeking BOE concurrence, triggering a lawsuit by Doran to get his job back. And, in October 2014, the BOE voted to bring back Doran – several months after having placed Ferraro on an involuntary paid leave. (Later, the BOE suspended Ferraro’s pay and set about preparing tenure charges against him, alleging that he had overstepped his authority by terminating Doran.)
But before Doran could be returned to his job, the BOE had to deal with the fact that Doran’s brother James had been elected to the board and, Lindenfelser said, “there was concern whether bringing Brian Doran back would present any conflict with the state nepotism policy so the settlement returning Brian Doran to work was conditioned on getting the Commissioner’s approval for this unique situation.” And, in fact, the Commissioner did sign off on the arrangement, he said.
At the time, the issue of retroactive pay was left for later consideration.
Lindenfelser said that when Doran was hired, he underwent a fingerprint background check – as was required for all new BOE employees – but he said the state apparently lost the prints and Doran was asked to repeat the process, which he did.
“But the state has never given us a response to the July 2004 printing,” Lindenfelser said, and nothing more was heard about the situation until the BOE received the Commissioner’s letter 10 years later.
At the time Doran was hired, Lindenfelser said, state law allowed for new school employees to begin working while a background check was in process. Since then, he said, the law was changed and now requires an employee to clear a background check before the employee can actually go on the payroll. “Hopefully, this will prevent this type of situation from happening again,” he said.
– Ron Leir