Published Oct 2, 2009
Published Friday October 2, 2009
Secret settlement in Papillion
By John FerakWORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
The City of Papillion agreed to pay out $200,000 in a secret settlement to former Papillion Mayor James Blinn's female executive assistant, The World-Herald learned this week.
Blinn, a two-term mayor with higher political aspirations, abruptly resigned July 7. Blinn has never provided an explanation for his sudden and surprising departure.
That same day, however, mayoral assistant Racheal Cascio, 35, filed a claim against her employer, Papillion, according to documents provided to The World-Herald after a Sept. 22 public records request to the city's insurer.
The city's insurer paid the six-figure claim even though Cascio has not filed any formal lawsuit that spells out her allegations against Blinn or the city.
A source with knowledge of Blinn's resignation told The World-Herald that Blinn resigned after Cascio made an allegation of sexual harassment against him.
Blinn, 40, is a civil and criminal defense attorney in private practice. Before his resignation, he was considered a rising star in state Republican politics, having been mentioned as a future candidate for Sarpy County attorney, U.S. senator or Nebraska attorney general.
Blinn had been Papillion mayor since 2002. In 2006, he ran unopposed.
Under the Aug. 28 confidential agreement, signed by Papillion City Administrator Dan Hoins, Cascio agreed to voluntarily quit her job, effective Sept. 1.
“Neither Employee nor Employer shall ever speak of this Agreement, its terms, Employee's claims or threatened claims against Employer, or the underlying facts of such claims to anyone other than those specifically named in this paragraph,” it states.
In exchange, the one-time, $200,000, lump-sum payment to Cascio came directly from Papillion's taxpayer-funded insurance company, the Nebraska League Association of Risk Management, or LARM. The group's executive director, Michael Nolan, agreed to authorize the payment from LARM on Aug. 31.
Although the World-Herald received a document confirming the secret settlement with Cascio, the newspaper did not receive a copy of Cascio's original claim, which spells out the basis of her grievance.
Of the 210 applications for payment submitted to LARM by the 10 cities whose files were reviewed this week by The World-Herald, Papillion's application for Cascio appears to be the only one without a claim. The insurer received no written claim against Papillion by Cascio, Nolan confirmed Thursday by e-mail.
Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley called that omission improper: “The public has a right to know why a city employee from Papillion was paid $200,000 to leave her position and never come back, because the payment entirely consists of public funds.”
Papillion also agreed to pay all of Cascio's COBRA health insurance premiums for the next 18 months, and to pay her for 174 hours of vacation time and 120.5 hours of sick time. Those benefits push the monetary settlement to at least $225,000 in public funds from the insurance pool, Foley said.
In a recent interview, Cascio confirmed that she had resigned from the city Sept. 1. She said that she was in the process of finding a new job.
Only a select number of people were allowed to know about the agreement's existence, and they were bound to secrecy. The agreement allowed the Papillion City Council to be informed, as well as Hoins, but Blinn would not have been one of the people privy to it.
The settlement binds Cascio to drop any plans to file a lawsuit against Papillion and to promise not to file future litigation against the city or its current or former officials or employees.
The city admitted no wrongdoing and the agreement is “never to be construed as an admission of liability.”
Lincoln attorney Mark Schorr of the Erickson Sederstrom law firm agreed to review a copy of the confidential settlement at The World-Herald's request, after being assured that the document was obtained through a proper public records request.
Schorr has no connection to the case or those involved. He is one of Nebraska's leading legal experts in employment law and is the editor of the Nebraska Employment Law Letter.
“This is a very, very large sum of money, an extraordinarily large settlement,” Schorr said. “In general, $200,000 would be extraordinary for a settlement of an employment-related claim with a public agency. It's interesting, especially that it's prior to filing of a formal lawsuit or without any formal legal action having been filed. It is not typical at all.
“The amount of settlement would indicate very, very, serious claims asserted and the city, and its insurer saw considerable liability.”