UNION COUNTY – Taxpayers spent $790,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former environmental engineer who accused Union County of cheating her out of benefits and firing her for trying to do her job.
The county approved a $500,000 settlement to end the suit filed by Catherine Alexander, according to a report from a taxpayer watchdog organization, CountyWatchers.com. Union County also spent $290,000 in legal fees.
Alexander was hired in March 2001 as an environmental engineer to “correct, improve and otherwise preserve” Union County parklands, according to court documents. She was hired as a part-time, “seasonal” employee with the promise of a regular full-time position with civil service benefits after six-months, according to the complaint.
Alexander’s complaint alleged that the county repeatedly fired her on paper and immediately re-hired her to get around a law prohibiting the employment of seasonal employees for more than six months. This prevented her from qualifying for civil service tenure rights and other benefits.
According to the complaint, Alexander’s job responsibilities included investigating and correcting encroachments on publicly owned county parklands. The suit alleged that the county “selectively” pursued actions in encroachment cases “depending on the identity of the encroached.” “Most wrongdoers were never pursued at all,” the complaint stated.
Alexander’s complaint alleged that her supervisor in the Division of Park Planning and Maintenance asked her to resign after she expressed her concerns about the lack of enforcement to senior county officials. Alexander refused and was terminated on April 20, 2007, according to the complaint.
Over $5 million in Green Acres funding was withheld from Union County for its indifference to correcting hundreds of encroachments on public parklands, according to the complaint.
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