MANCHESTER – Citing the potential for ongoing costly litigation, Manchester officials said the township agreed to a $50,000 settlement to Elena Zsoldos, former township business administrator who was terminated after her Asbury Park arrest in a township vehicle on charges of cocaine possession.
Zsoldos was suspended without pay or benefits after the incident, and was terminated “on or about May 6, 2014,” the settlement agreement stated.
Zsoldos and her attorneys will split $50,000. The first installment, issued on January 17, paid Zsoldos $19,826.84 and her attorneys, O’Brien, Belland & Bushinsky LLC, Cherry Hill, $10,173.16.
The second installment, not yet issued at press time, will pay Zsoldos and her attorneys $13,217.90 and $6,782.10 respectively.
The lawsuit was initiated by Zsoldos, seeking the sick and vacation time she had accumulated, said Councilman Sam Fusaro. “The legal fees were mounting quickly and Council felt it was financially wise to settle rather than building up larger fees. In the agreement she agrees not to pursue any additional legal action with the township,” he said.
The settlement, dated January 18, states that the payments resolve all claims, “including but not limited to emotional distress, physical pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.”
Mayor Kenneth Palmer, whose tenure began after Zsoldos’ termination, said he wanted to settle the case with minimum impact to the township, and made changes to employees’ contracts to ensure something such as this doesn’t happen again.
“Manchester Township only paid [Zsoldos] what we were contractually obligated to pursuant to her contract of employment. As opposed to litigating the case and incurring needless attorney fees, we resolved the matter for the bare minimum pursuant to her contract. We have since modified the township employment contracts to not allow severance pay should a department head be dismissed for cause,” Palmer told The Manchester Times.
Zsoldos signed an employment contract on June 10, 2008, which outlined salary, sick leave, vacation time, etc. Whether she was not re-appointed or terminated, Zsoldos was entitled to her then-current salary for 90 days, “except where statutory provisions mandate otherwise, continuation of all health benefits and any and all other terms and conditions of this contract.”
According to a January 9 U.S. District Court summary, Zsoldos was arrested on April 28, 2014 and charged with possession of a controlled substance. The next day, the township sent her a letter stating she was suspended without pay, but could request a hearing within five days when she received the letter. The summary states she didn’t receive the letter until May 2, but responded on May 7 that she wanted a hearing. At that same time she told the township she entered impatient treatment for 10 days. With her treatment extended, the summary says Zsoldos’s husband asked that the hearing be postponed until she was released from treatment. The township responded that a closed session hearing was scheduled for May 12. The Zsoldoses claimed they heard nothing else from the township.
Zsoldos filed a complaint in NJ Superior Court on March 29 of last year; the township filed two items with the U.S. District Court NJ District.
Rather than proceed with litigation, the two parties decided to settle. The township council called a special meeting December 30 where it approved the settlement agreement, which was not released to The Manchester Times until February 3.
Zsoldos ultimately pled guilty to “wandering into a drug zone,” which the law defines as “loitering to obtain or distribute controlled dangerous substances.” It’s a disorderly persons offense.
The newspaper reached out to Zsoldos’s attorneys for comment, but did not hear from the office by press time.