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AVALON - In December 2020, Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi presented a reorganization plan to Avalon Borough Council, asking for the council’s support and approval where necessary. 

The plan was a result of an internal investigation by the borough in response to an employee’s complaints that he was subjected to anti-Semitism in the workplace.

Nathan Morey, a 10-year employee of the Public Works and Utilities Department, alleges his direct supervisor, William Deeney, engaged in a pattern of anti-Semitic remarks and discriminatory actions, beginning in early 2019.

Pagliughi’s document presented to council states that he “concluded that it is both necessary and desirable and is in the best interest of the borough to initiate a reorganization of the borough’s Department of Public Works and Utilities to take effect immediately.”

The plan, when presented to the council by Business Administrator Scott Wahl, also announced the imminent retirement of the department’s director, William Macomber, effective March 1.

The Plan

The reorganization plan establishes an operations coordinator position to be filled by then-Assistant Director Steve Camp, a certified public works manager. 

The new position would have direct supervision of employees in each of the department’s four divisions. The divisions deal with public works, fleet management, waste management, and utilities. 

The coordinator will report to a redefined position of director, reorganized to emphasize management experience. Pagliughi announced his intention to hire retired Avalon Police Chief William McCormick as the new director, citing McCormick’s “years of experience” and “demonstrated management skills.” 

To facilitate a smooth transition, Pagliughi said Macomber would serve in an interim position of administrative coordinator until the date of his retirement. 

Camp and Macomber would serve at their current salaries. McCormick, pending council approval, is to receive a salary of $90,000 a year. The assistant director position would be abolished, and the duties of Macomber’s interim administrative coordinator position would be absorbed into the new director’s position, as of March 1. 

Pagliughi noted that the reorganization does not include any change to the number of divisions in the department, nor does it involve an alteration to the number of employees permanently.

As justification for the reorganization plan, Pagliughi cited internal investigations that found the employee’s complaint of inappropriate behavior “valid and meritorious.” 

The investigations, he said, found additional instances of “unacceptable conduct,” for which Pagliughi noted that five employees were subject to disciplinary actions.

The ordinances to make adjustments for implementation of the plan were introduced, and approval is expected in January.

Morey Files Suit

Pagliughi’s actions stem from Morey’s initiated litigation against the borough Sept. 30 (http://bit.ly/3s8mlxt). 

In a Superior Court complaint, Morey alleges that the borough “condoned” anti-Semitism, workplace hostility toward him, and discrimination because of his Jewish heritage and complaints.

In the court filing, Morey details his experience over most of 2019, an experience, he alleges, was characterized by an increasingly hostile and discriminatory workplace and by unwarranted discipline against him, resulting in suspensions, poor performance evaluations, loss of raises, and lack of promotions. 

The complaint lists four counts against the borough for harassment, a hostile work environment, retaliation, and discrimination. 

Morey states he reported the actions of Deeney to a succession of borough supervisors, spoke to the Avalon Police Department at the suggestion of Macomber, and notified Wahl in writing Dec. 20, 2019. 

He alleges that none of his actions resulted in appropriate action by the borough or in Deeney being held responsible for his conduct.

In its reply to the complaint, the borough denies that it failed to take appropriate action on a timely basis. The reply also claims that any adverse actions taken against Morey over the year were “legitimate and non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory.” The reply also alleges that Morey “failed to pursue administrative remedies.” 

The bottom line of the reply is that the borough states it “was not guilty of any negligence or other wrongdoing.” 

Morey’s suit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. It also seeks compensation for emotional stress, back and front pay, and reasonable attorney fees. Both sides agreed on the demand for a jury trial. 

The court Dec. 4 ordered mediation, stating that “early mediation” with a “trained, neutral facilitator” often saves public money on litigation while resulting in “mutually beneficial resolution” of the issue.

Avalon Responds

Concerning the Morey litigation, a borough release states that Avalon “treats all personnel matters seriously and thoroughly investigates complaints of this nature promptly.” 

The release states that the borough, following its investigation, took the necessary actions promptly and “prior to the filing of the pending lawsuit.”  

Avalon’s statement on the lawsuit adds, “The Reorganization Plan was initiated by the borough before the borough was served with the lawsuit.”

Citing ongoing litigation, the borough made no further comment. 

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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