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New Jersey County Settled Guards Free Speech/Union Busting Suit for $240,000

New Jersey’s Morris County has settled a series of lawsuits that claimed jail officials violated guards’ rights to free speech and union activities. The settlement pays $240,000 but the majority of that is to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

Starting in 2004, Morris County jail guards Ronald Flammer, Robert Fried, Lisa Knowlton, Sgt. Henry Ruiz, Lt. James O’Brien, and Capt. John Lombardi filed suits alleging they were reprimanded for speaking out on issues that angered their superiors.

The guards claimed that as a result of their actions, they were removed from work shifts essential for family obligations, internal affairs investigations, specialized units, and they suffered suspensions and verbal abuse. Jail officials said the guards were just disgruntled about a change from “loose, do whatever you want” attitudes.

The August 2008 settlement pays Ruiz $10,000, Knowlton $20,000, Fried and O’Brien $30,000 each, all for their attorney fees and costs. Flammer received $150,000, with $120,000 of that going to attorney fees and costs.

The opinions of the settlement meaning differed. “I think this vindicates the operation of the jail,” said Undersheriff Ralph McGrane, who runs the jail. “Not one of their claims was substantiated.”

The guards saw it differently. “This case was not about money. It was about bringing a problem to light, making sure the public knew and ensure it would not happen again,” said the guards’ attorney, Richard Panitch. “The easier thing for them to do would have been to shut their mouths and not make waves.” Source: The Star Ledger

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