Monday, March 31, 2008

City settles age, race bias suit with former parks worker

By Jim Shelton
Register Staff
— The city agreed Friday to a $425,000 settlement of a civil lawsuit brought by a former city parks worker who claimed he was turned down for a public works job because he’s white and because he was too old.
City officials had planned to appeal an earlier $500,000 jury verdict awarded to Casper Vollero Jr. of North Haven. But Friday, the day the appeal was scheduled for court, the city and Vollero’s attorney, Diane Polan, reached a settlement.
“My client is thrilled to have the case settled,” Polan said.
Polan said the city could have settled the case months ago for only $60,000, but chose go to court instead.
“As a taxpayer, which I am, I’m appalled the city continues to make terrible decisions in litigation,” Polan said. “They chose not to settle the first time. They rolled the dice and lost.”
City Corporation Counsel John Ward said Friday the city reconsidered its appeal because it was able to negotiate a more favorable arrangement with its insurance company. The city will pay $150,000 and the insurance company will pay the rest.
“If we appeal, we may win or we may lose,” Ward said. “It’s a matter of risk. This is a good deal.”
Vollero, who is in his 60s, had applied for a laborer job with the Department of Public Works in 2003. He was employed then as a grounds worker with the Parks and Recreation Department, cutting tree branches and driving trucks.
According to Vollero’s original suit, Public Works supervisor Richard Christiansen ridiculed Vollero. Christiansen and Public Works supervisor Charles Redd allegedly recommended that Vollero not be hired, the lawsuit claimed.
Vollero filed suit after he was turned down for the job.
In the terms of Friday’s settlement, Ward said, Vollero agreed not to take any further legal action against Christiansen, Redd or former Director of Public Works Richard Miller.
City officials noted that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was not involved in the negotiations. City spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the mayor will sign the settlement out of a desire to save the city money.

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