Jury Rules Against Chamber

SNOW HILL – A Worcester County jury took a little under two hours last Friday to return a verdict in favor of a former Ocean City Chamber of Commerce executive director against his previous employer, but chamber officials this week said the door is still open for an appeal in the case.

At the close of a three-day trial last Friday, a Worcester County Circuit Court jury awarded former Executive Director Daniel Barufaldi $60,000 in damages in the suit that alleged breach of contract and other charges related to his hiring, employment and eventual resignation from the post. Barufaldi was seeking an undisclosed amount of damages in the suit, but a source close to the case said the jury’s award was about half of what the former director was seeking, suggesting the final verdict represented a compromise of sorts by the jury in a complicated case.

In the suit, Barufaldi alleged he was never offered a formal contract when hired by the chamber in November 2005, nor were the terms of employment ever finalized. At issue were the conditions of his employment related to incentive bonuses for increased chamber revenues from historic baselines under Barufaldi’s watch.

According to a source, Barufaldi was supposed to get 25 percent of the net increase in the chamber’s revenue as an incentive bonus to his base salary of $52,000 per year, but Barufaldi contended in his suit he was supposed to get 25 percent of the gross increase in the chamber’s revenue.

Chamber officials this week were disappointed with the jury’s verdict, claiming the incentive language in the contract was not as nebulous as the plaintiff would have the jury believe.

“The incentive pay language was extremely arbitrary and opened the door to different interpretations, but we believed it was very clear,” said the chamber in a prepared statement.

Chamber President Todd Ferrante said the outcome was disheartening but hinted last week’s verdict might not be the end of the story.

“It is unfortunate that the jury found against the chamber and we are very disappointed,” he said. “The chamber is weighing all of its options including an appeal.”

It is believed the chamber’s insurance carrier is footing the bill for the defense of the case as well as the settlement awarded to Barufaldi, but it is not known whether the same insurance carrier would pay for what could be a lengthy appeal in the case. That determination could be a factor in whether or not the chamber’s Board of Directors decides to file an appeal, according to a source close to the case.