Settlement Reached In Case Involving WCDC, Ex-Employee

SNOW HILL – A federal civil suit filed earlier this year by a former Worcester County Developmental Center (WCDC) employee against the agency and a handful of its management staff, citing an alleged long pattern of intimidation and discrimination that ended with her wrongful termination in September 2008 was dismissed late last week although the terms of the settlement remain confidential.

Former WCDC employee Jometta Johnson, through her attorneys, in February filed suit against the agency and two of her former supervisors alleging race discrimination, retaliation, assault and battery and others including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations. According to the original complaint, Johnson was fired on September 25, 2008 after an alleged final act of discrimination and retaliation by her supervisors.

Last week, attorneys for the plaintiff filed a formal notice of voluntary dismissal, essentially dropping the case, although the terms of any settlement reached have not been made public.

“The parties, through counsel stipulate that this matter, including all claims, cross claims and third-party claims, asserted or merely potential, is dismissed with prejudice with each party to bear his or her own costs,” the formal stipulation of dismissal reads.

Ashley Bosche, co-counsel for Johnson, said this week the terms of the dismissal were confidential and could not be made public. The original complaint compelled the court to enter a judgment in favor of Johnson for an undisclosed amount of punitive and compensatory damages and enter an injunction compelling the WCDC to reinstate Johnson and prohibit the agency from further discrimination and retaliation, or, in the alternative, compel the WCDC to compensate Johnson with front-pay.

Johnson was hired in January 2008 as day program manager, a supervisory position. She has a master of arts in human services, but had not worked with individuals with disabilities. However, her employee performance appraisal confirms she was eager to learn and not afraid to ask questions. According to the complaint, her supervisor, Borzager, was unhelpful and brusquely informed Johnson she did not have time for her questions or requests for constructive feedback.

In April 2008, the friction between the two allegedly became physical when the supervisor “assaulted and battered Ms. Johnson without consequence.” One morning in April, a WCDC finance employee frantically ran to Johnson shouting a co-worker needed immediate assistance with a disabled individual. Johnson rushed in and saw the supervisor struggling with the disabled individual, rushed to her aid and commanded the individual to sit down, a command to which the individual complied.

However, the co-worker allegedly turned around angrily and forcefully grabbed both of Johnson’s arms and “proceeded to pull her first toward her and then push her away from her, almost forcing her to the ground while yelling ‘I didn’t need your help, I needed you to come and observe’.”

According to the complaint, Johnson immediately reported the alleged violent outburst to the executive director of WCDC, and also expressed her other concerns about co-worker’s refusal to answer her questions and her tendency to make abrasive and condescending remarks. The executive director allegedly made light of the incidents, claiming Johnson’s supervisor was under a lot of stress and would be in better mood when she got back from vacation.

According to the complaint, the pattern of abuse and harassment continued after that incident. Later in April 2008, Johnson was holding the door for her supervisor, who was pushing a disabled individual in a wheel chair, when she allegedly said, “Let’s run over Jometta’s feet with the wheelchair.” According to the suit, the remark placed Johnson in reasonable apprehension of an imminent battery. The supervisor, like all WCDC employees, knew Johnson suffered from chronic foot ailments and had recently received a cortisone shot in her right foot due to an inflammation.

Johnson allegedly battled back and forth with her supervisors about the type of shoes she was allowed to wear. At one point, the human resources manager, allegedly contacted Johnson’s doctor and asked him to rescind his note about the shoes. In another example, the WCDC leadership changed the agency’s dress code to include a paragraph about heel height directly related to Johnson.

The situation came to a head in September when Johnson arrived for work wearing the heeled shoes. Her supervisors allegedly told Johnson they were going to drive her to her car so she could go home and put on proper shoes. When Johnson refused and said she would find her own ride to her car, remarks were allegedly made that resulted in her termination and served as the catalyst for the suit.

“The pinnacle of the harassment of Ms. Johnson occurred seconds before Ms. Johnson’s termination when her supervisor yelled “get your black [expletive deleted] in the van right now or you will be terminated’,” the original complaint read.