A judge ruled today in favor of Atlantic City officials in a whisteblower lawsuit alleging that racial discrimination and complaints about unethical practices at City Hall led to the firing of former city Business Administrator Domenic Cappella.
Cappella claimed his allegations prompted his removal by the Langford administration in May 2010 after eight years on the job, according to the decision by Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson. Cappella’s criticisms had touched on Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s repayment of a lawsuit settlement, public workers abusing city car privileges, the trading of legal contracts for political donations and other alleged City Hall practices, the decision said.
Although those actions constituted whisteblowing, Cappella failed to prove his termination stemmed from retaliation for his complaints, or racial discrimination. Instead, a financial crisis and Cappella’s own poor job performance led to what ultimately was a voluntary resignation, Johnson stated.
To try to make his case, Cappella also cited:
His demotion during Atlantic City Fire Battalion Chief Scott Evans’ brief tenure as mayor during 2008 to assistant business administrator
Langford’s promotion of Michael Scott to business administrator — instead of Cappella — the following year
The elimination of the assistant business administrator position in a widespread layoff plan put together in April 2010 as part of a state-supervised financial overhaul of the local government.
Johnson, however, said it seemed those developments were a result of Cappella’s poor job performance, not whistleblowing activity.
And a month after the city assembled its layoff plan, Cappella voluntarily resigned, Johnson said in his ruling.
Cappella also failed to demonstrate he was discriminated against based on his race.
Reached on his cell phone, Cappella said he wasn’t aware the lawsuit was tossed out until contacted by The Press of Atlantic City late Friday afternoon.
“I really haven’t been paying much attention. Since my wife got sick last year, I’ve been so messed up,” said Cappella, who moved out of the resort to his daughter’s home in Mays Landing after the death of his wife, Geraldine, in March.
The two met in sixth grade and married in 1962, said Cappella, 67.
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