The city’s governing body on Wednesday evening refused to settle a lawsuit filed by its current public works director against the former director that would have cost taxpayers $215,000.
Public works director Manuel Ojeda, who was employed as a sanitation inspector, when he filed the federal lawsuit in February of this year alleging, Christopher Coke, former public works director, subjected him to “ridicules” and “derogatory comments,” all of which contributed in creating a hostile work environment. Ojeda also alleged he was discriminated against.
Council members held a closed door meeting to discuss the lawsuit, after which, instead of approving a $215,000 settlement, officials “sent it back” for “review.” Officials appeared to suggest they would like the settlement amount reduced.
“At this moment in time, we think legal should go back, review the information, and come back to us,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman. Other council members said there was a dearth of information and the lawyer representing the city in court came unprepared.
“There wasn’t enough information presented at this time for us to make a reasonable or an informed decision whether or not we should settle,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
Ojeda alleges several negative incidents he has had while Coke was the director. He begins with his demotion in 2010 from the helm of the city’s public works department to the title of sanitation inspector.
Ojeda alleges he was forced to pick up checks from the director’s office when every other employee was handed out checks on payday. Ojeda says in the suit he had to approach Coke to ask for his pay check causing him embarrassment and humiliation.
“When the DPW recently handed out new city-issued telephones to employees who needed same to perform their duties,” states the suit, “Ojeda received an outdated telephone which impacted his ability to perform his job.”
Ojeda’s suit claims he received a “cheap outmoded telephone” resulting in reduced productivity and missed phone calls.
Coke also allegedly attempted to reduce Ojeda’s salary by $40,000. “You’re lucky I didn’t take your money,” a comment Ojeda attributes to Coke.
Ojeda, who praised then ousted mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, alleges his political opinions also handed him in hot waters. “You and Joey did a fine job fucking this department up,” Coke allegedly remarked to Ojeda,
“He [Ojeda] believed Torres’ policies were good for the City of Paterson and openly expressed himself to that effect,” reads the suit.