JERSEY CITY, NJ - Jersey City may be vulnerable to future lawsuits as a result of a city council vote to approve a $918,000 contract for the Jersey City Employment and Training Program (JCETP).
In a meeting held online in efforts to adhere to current social-distancing protocols, the council approved the contract but without a provision to indemnify employees. That missing provision, some officials are concerned, potentially leaves the city on the hook for legal penalties resulting from actions the JCETP has taken in the past.
Councilman James Solomon said he was particularly concerned that this would negatively affect a whistleblower who had come forward concerning wrongdoing in the agency and currently has a lawsuit pending.
The agreement designated JCETP to continue as its administrative agency for its Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Area (WIOA). While the program helps find employment opportunities for the unemployed it has been clouded by scandal since 2018 when one of its supervisors was fired for allegedly charging clients to arrange for jobs with the city.
The troubled agency came under serious controversy in 2019 when board members – largely appointed by Mayor Steven Fulop – fired then executive director, Jim McGreevey over accusations that he commingled city funds with those he received for his private not for profit reentry program – charges McGreevey refuted.
In a series of conflicting audits, JCETP Board President Sudhan Thomas also later faced accusations, brought forward initially by employee Nuria Sierra, related to the alleged misuse of program funds. Those led to criminal charges to which Thomas has pleaded not guilty.
Solomon’s concerns relate to Sierra’s firing that came after making the report, and her ensuing lawsuit.
“My concern is if we proceed without indemnification there’s no way for us to guarantee that she is made whole,” Solomon said speaking of Sierra. “That either the money comes out of this JCEPT grant, but if it doesn’t come out of the grant, then it comes out of where?”
Corporation Counsel Peter Baker attempted to allay these concerns by offering an assurance that any financial settlement that may arise from Sierra’s firing would not come from JCETP funds, or other state or federal grants. While he could not say where the funds would come from he did share that a settlement has been made which included restoration of her job.
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