Stender Lawsuit Settled For $65,000

The governing body approved to settled a lawsuit brought about by Roselle Park Municipal Court Administrator Maria Stender, who sued the municipality for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The settlement amount was $65,000.

Ms. Stender, who is currently Roselle Park’s Court Administrator and will be retiring at the end of this month, filed suit in 2012 claiming that the municipality failed to pay her overtime, did not pay her benefits and other compensation, and that the municipality failed to keep adequate records regarding hours she worked as well as other employment information relevant to Ms. Stender. She has been an employee of the Borough for 28 years and has been its Court Administrator since 1996.

The complaint filed with the United States District Court, District of New Jersey, claimed that the municipality classified her as a supervisor when she was, in practice, a Department Head and, in doing so, did not receive overtime pay and benefit due a Department Head. In court documents, it was revealed that the municipality entered into an agreement with Department Heads in 1998 that provided them with – among other things – all major medical, dental and prescription benefits for a Department Head and their spouse for the remainder of their lives after retirement, provided they were a Borough employee for at least 15 years. Additionally, every Department Head would receive three months’ pay upon retirement, provided they were employed by the municipality for at least 20 years.

Up until October 2008, the Complaint stated that Ms. Stender had been paid for any unused compensatory time from the Parking Offenses Adjudication Fund but that in 2008 she was notified she would no longer be paid from that Fund. Between that time and the date of the filing of the lawsuit in 2012, it was claimed that Ms. Stender worked close to 1,100 hours for which she was not paid and had used only 100 of those hours as ‘comp time’.

Starting in September 2011, Ms. Stender wrote letters to the municipality complaining that she was no longer receiving overtime pay. In March of 2012, the municipality notified her that it believed that she was exempt from overtime/comp time under FLSA.

Although the Settlement Agreement between both parties stated that the agreement is not an admission of wrongdoing or liability and is being entered into solely for the sake of economic expediency, the United States District Court dismissed the litigation with prejudice against the Borough.

The Settlement Agreement set forth that Ms. Stender, while employed by the Borough, will not work over the standard 35-hours-a-week unless the Governing Body pre-approves those hours in writing. The agreement also stated that Ms. Stender is to be provided with 50 hours comp time that can be used at her discretion but any time not used will be forfeited.

Ms. Stender and her attorney, as per the Settlement Agreement, are prohibited from speaking on the lawsuit other than to say that the “claim was resolved to their satisfaction”.

Even though the two-year litigation resulted in the municipality paying $65,000, members of the Governing Body had nothing but kind words and praise for Ms. Stender when her retirement was announced as a resolution in May.

“Where do I start? I could probably spend the next couple of hours,” said Council-At-Large Carl Hokanson when Resolution 105-14 came up for a vote, “I had the opportunity to work with her all my years in the Police Department. She’s put her heart and soul into this Borough… We’re going to miss her. Maria, great job.”

Mayor Joseph Accardi also complimented Ms. Stender, “I also want to say I’ve work with Ms. Stender. I’ve spoken about her… with Judge Angelo, with Judge Bundy, all the prosecutors over the years… and everybody’s been impressed with her honesty, her integrity, her efficiency, her dedication, and she will be missed by our community. She’s very effective and she’ll be missed.”

Ms. Stender was not reached for a comment in light of the confidentiality clause of the Settlement Agreement signed.

Below are copies of the Settlement Agreement, Stipulation of Dismissal, and original Complaint.