Settlement Agreement Does Not Allow Officer To Prospectively Commit Misconduct

Tatiana Cabrera-Renne was a police officer with the City of Paterson, New Jersey. Cabrera-Renne brought a discrimination lawsuit against the City. She and the City eventually reached a settlement agreement of the lawsuit. Under the terms of the settlement, Carera-Renne would return to work until the City paid her a lump sum of $215,000. Thereafter, Cabrera-Renne and the City would abandon and release all pending actions against each other, Cabrera-Renne would voluntarily resign, and she would receive a neutral letter of recommendation regarding her position.

Two weeks after the settlement agreement was signed, Cabrera-Renne returned to her regular work assignment. Almost immediately, the City filed new disciplinary charges against her and suspended her without pay for 30 days for insubordination. Two weeks after that, the City approved the settlement agreement.

Cabrera-Renne then filed an order to show cause seeking to vacate the settlement agreement on the grounds that the City had agreed not to bring new disciplinary charges against her after the settlement.

When a trial court refused to overturn the settlement, Cabrera-Renne appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.

The Appeals Court held Cabrera-Renne to the terms of the settlement. The Court’s opinion strongly suggested that the position taken by Cabrera-Renne bordered on absurd: “The agreement contemplated that while Cabrera-Renne was working as a police officer with the City of Paterson, the City would not pursue any grievances that were pending as of the date of settlement, but clearly did not mean that the public entity’s hands were tied until Cabrera-Renne received her $215,000 payment and left her position with the Police Department. For Cabrera-Renne to believe that while waiting for the City Council to act, she could return to work, violate rules and act with impunity and not be penalized with disciplinary action is ridiculous. Considering Cabrera-Renne’s position as a police officer, it would be further contrary to public policy to allow her to continue working without any oversight or review and to disregard departmental rules and regulations without consequences.”

Cabrera-Renne v. City of Paterson, 2009 WL 1011091 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2009).

This article appears in the June 2009 issue