Monday, June 7, 2010

Springfield Board of Ed pays $20,000 to settle fired bus driver's racial discrimination suit

On July 6, 2009, the Springfield Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $20,000 to an Irvington woman who sued the Springfield Board of Education and several Board employees and officials for wrongfully terminating her and for subjecting her to "an intolerable, abusive, and racially hostile work environment.

In her suit, Sharon Moore, an African-American woman, claimed that certain employees and officials of the Board of Education, all of whom are white, treated her disparately "and despite her excellent performance and experience, her responsibilities and shifts were decreased until she was ultimately and wrongfully terminated." Named in the lawsuit were Superintendent Michael A. Davino, Board Secretary Matthew A. Clarke, Human Resources Director Ellyn Atherton, Transportation Coordinator Sheila Hahn, Facilities Supervisor Michael L. Moore and supervisor Jared Moskowitz.

According to the suit, Moore, who was employed by the Board in 2000, said that in 2003, the Board hired another, white bus driver named Dixie Dougherty who received preferential treatment even though she had been newly hired. When Moore complained to Hahn about her treatment, she was allegedly summoned by Michael Moore who told her that she was "stirring the pot." When she asked Moore why Dougherty was receiving preferential treatment, Moore reportedly responded that it was "none of your damn business" and told her that "he would do whatever is necessary to get rid of 'troublemakers.'" Moore also alleged that she was assigned to drive busses that "barely had heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer" while a newer bus remained idle in the garage.

Her suit also claims that she was suspended on November 21, 2005 as a result of "a ridiculous and unfounded child abuse charge brought against" her "as direct retaliation" for her discrimination complaints. She claims to have been "cleared on all allegations." She further claims that she was again suspended on January 23, 2006 in response to Moskowitz's "bogus and unfounded complaint [the she] was driving recklessly." She claims that this charge resulted in her being fired as well as being "subjected to an unwarranted DYFS investigation."

The case is captioned Moore v. Springfield Board of Education, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-1191-08. Moore's attorney was Gina Mendola Longarzo of Madison. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Moore's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Springfield Board of Education or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Springfield Board of Education or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Moore $20,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.