The New Jersey Appellate Division of Superior Court upheld a Hudson County Superior Court ruling from last year that will force the town of West New York to finish paying former employee Janet Passante the $306,324.30 retirement compensation package owed to her.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
According to the 16-page ruling by Judges William E. Nugent and Harry G. Carroll, Passante worked in West New York from 1975 until April 30, 2010.
She worked in both the Public Safety and Public Affairs Departments, as well as the Chief of Staff to then-Mayor Sal Vega from November 2006 until she retired.
After reviewing documents with town counsel and the town business administrator, Passante signed an agreement prepared for $306,324.30, which was approved in the form of a resolution by the board of commissioners on May 10, 2010.
The agreement was to compensate Passante for accrued sick time, compensation time and accrued vacation days.
Then, after Passante received over one-third of her retirement package, $112,219.87, the West New York Board of Commissioners, now under Mayor Felix Roque, adopted a resolution rescinding the payout on August 17, 2011.
The following month, then-Town Attorney Gilberto Garcia was authorized by the board to investigate if certain payment packages to former town employees were valid.
In September 2011, the town filed suit against Passante alleging that the resolution authorizing her payout violated statute and public policy, among other things, while Passante answered with a countersuit asking to be paid the remaining $194,104.43 she believed she was owed.
The town of West New York, through Garcia, argued that the agreement was invalid on a technicality: since it was presented in the form of a resolution, instead of an ordinance.
[B]ecause the “Agreement” was ratified by Resolution rather than by Ordinance it is void and unenforceable. Plaintiff argues that because the then existing employment policy Ordinance did not permit the type of payment authorized under the Agreement, the Agreement had to be introduced and adopted by Ordinance rather than by Resolution.
While Passante prevailed in Hudson County Superior Court, the town filed with the state Appellate Division of Superior Court on August 19, 2014.
“The town concedes on appeal that it ‘no longer disputes Janet Passante’s entitlement to receive her compensation for 300 unused sick days,'” Nugent and Carroll wrote on page eight of their decision.
“We further note the Town no longer contends on appeal, as it alleged in its complaint, that its agreement with Passante is void due to mutual mistake, fraud, the making of an unconstitutional gift, disparate treatment contrary to public policy, misrepresentation, or unjust enrichment.”
Citing case law, the judges agreed that “the agreement was contractual, not legislative in nature, and as such a resolution is sufficient”.
The decision also states that Passante accumulated compensatory time and unused vacation days under two prior administrations, so the salary ordinance in effect when she retired would not apply to her.
“Because the Town did not raise the issue that its contract with Passante was void because she was not entitled to accrue vacation days during the years she actually accrued them, we decline to address it on the inadequate record before us,” the last page of the decision says.
Garcia did not immediately return calls seeking comment, while Passante could not be reached for comment.
A full copy of the appellate court ruling can be read here.