Monday, April 20, 2009

Teacher accepts $2,000 to settle civil case against Barrington School District

This is a follow-up to my earlier posting regarding the $200,000 civil settlement reached in 2008 between nine former Barrington middle school students and the Barrington school district arising out the girls' claims regarding a "sexually hostile environment" at the Woodland School.

Today, I learned that Richard Morgenroth, the teacher who the girls' claims engaged in sexual harassing conduct, settled his own suit against the Barrington school district in February 2008. In his complaint, Morgenroth claimed that the girls conspired with former superintendent Nelson Maloney and teacher Mary Spaeth to communicate false allegations against Morgenroth. According to Morgenroth's suit, these "false, grossly negligent and exaggerated allegations" were reported to the police, causing him to endure a three-day trial which ended in his favor. In his suit, Morgenroth also accused some of the girls and their parents of referring to him as a "Jew Bastard" and that discrimination played a role in the way in which he was treated.

Morgenroth's lawsuit and the settlement agreement are on-line here. Information on the girls' lawsuit is here.

None of the Morgenroth's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of the settlement agreements does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the School District, any of its employees, the girls or their parents. All that is known for sure is that the Barrington School District and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Morgenroth a total of $2,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Barrington's decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, it's possible that Morgenroth's claims were true and Barrington wanted to avoid being embarrassed or embarrassing the girls at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS.

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Students settle 2005 Barrington sexual harassment case for $200K

During the summer of 2008, nine former middle school students accepted a total of $200,000 to settle their federal lawsuit against the Barrington School District. The students, all girls who were 12 to 15 during the 2003-04 school year,
had sued the District and Principal Patricia Moore for failing to remedy a "sexually hostile environment" at the Woodland School.

The following documents are on-line:


In their suit, filed on November 14, 2005, the girls claimed that school officials were indifferent to their complaints about the sexually harassing conduct of Richard Morgenroth, 38, their math and computer teacher. In their lawsuit, the girls, who are identified only by their initials, claimed that Morgenroth a) referred to them as being "sexy" or "a bitch," b) stared down the front of their shirts, c) asked one girl, referred to as G.E., to feel his pants, d) asked a former Catholic school student if she was a "good girl or a bad girl" in her Catholic uniform, e) asked the girls to spend time with him after school and gave them detention when they refused, f) remarked that G.E.'s pants were paper-thin and made her crawl on the floor in front of her class and g) asked the girls to comment on whether he was "hotter" than another male teacher.

The lawsuit further alleged that when confronted with the accusations against Morgenroth, Moore replied that “It’s his first year; he’s new at this,” “He’s a good Christian man. I’ve known him for a very long time” and “Look at this man! He would never do a thing like that! He wouldn’t harm a fly.”

The girls' allegations are in contrast to Morgenroth's version, as reported in the May 13, 2005 Courier Post. In that article, which is re-printed in full at the bottom of this message, Morgenroth, after criminal charges against him were dismissed, said that he didn't "blame the kids" and was "glad to be vindicated." According to the article, Morgenroth also recovered his right to teach when the charges were dismissed. Following the article is a news release issued by the Camden County Prosecutor's office in 2004.

None of the girls' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of the settlement agreements does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the School District, Moore or Morgenroth. All that is known for sure is that the Barrington School District and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the girls a total of $200,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Barrington's decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, it's possible that the girls' claims were true and Barrington wanted to avoid being embarrassed or embarrassing the girls at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS.

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, click here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey
--------------------------------
Ex-Barrington teacher cleared of charges
Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ) - Friday, May 13, 2005
Author: Courier-Post, RENEE WINKLER, Staff
By RENEE WINKLER

Courier-Post Staff CAMDEN

A former mathematics and computer teacher at a Barrington middle school was cleared Thursday of all allegations that he inappropriately touched 12 of his students during class.

Richard Morgenroth , 38, of Elkins Road in Cherry Hill, originally faced 13 complaints.

Morgenroth, who had been a first-year teacher at Woodland School, had been convicted of three counts in municipal court. But Superior Court Judge William Cook on Thursday dismissed those counts on Morgenroth's appeal, saying there was no finding of wrongdoing.

Eight of the complaints against Morgenroth had been dismissed at a municipal court hearing, and the prosecutor's office dropped the other two.

"I don't blame the kids," Morgenroth said Thursday. "I'm just glad to be vindicated."

The female students all claimed Morgenroth had rubbed or touched their shoulders in class, said Robert Agre, Morgenroth's attorney.

In the complaints, all disorderly persons offenses, the students claimed the incidents took place between September 2003 and April 2004.

Morgenroth initially had to forfeit his right to teach. The former environmental engineer also was barred from doing any work for the state. He is no longer subject to those forfeitures.

"I lost my job over this. I lost two jobs," he said. "I would love to return to teaching. I would have no problem walking back into that school."

Morgenroth said he has been out of work since last May.

"I lost that income," he said. "Now I know how to budget."

-----
CAMDEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE
VINCENT P. SARUBBI, CAMDEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR
MEDIA INFORMATION

September 14, 2004

Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi and Barrington Police Chief George Preen reported that their agencies today issued a series of 12 summonses against Richard Morgenroth, M/37, alleging that he subjected female students to offensive touching while he was a teacher at the Woodland School in Barrington, N.J.

Each of the summonses alleges Harassment, a Petty Disorderly Persons Offense. They were served on Morgenroth, of the 100 block of Elkins Road in Cherry Hill, this morning at the Barrington Police Department. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2004, at 5 p.m. in Barrington Municipal Court.

Should a judge find Morgenroth guilty, the maximum penalty on each summons is a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, though there is a presumption against incarceration. In addition, a guilty finding would permanently disqualify Morgenroth from public employment.

The charges result from a 4½-month investigation by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and the Barrington Police Department, conducted with the cooperation of the Barrington School District. The district suspended Morgenroth in April and declined to renew his contract this school year.

"The investigation revealed a persistent pattern of inappropriate behavior with numerous children," Sarubbi stated.

Eleven of the summonses accuse Morgenroth of "repeatedly rubbing and/or massaging the shoulders" of 11 girls, ages 12 to 14, while they were students in the defendant's computer class. The remaining summons accuses the defendant of touching the thighs of one of the 11 girls, a 13-year-old, and commenting on how tight her jeans were. The offenses allegedly took place between September 2003 and April 2004 at the school for grades four to eight.

All persons charged with offenses are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
-end