Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Franklin Board of Ed pays $80,000 to settle racial discrimination suit

On February 22, 2010, the Franklin Township Board of Education (Somerset County) agreed to pay $80,000 to a couple who sued the Board and Franklin Park Elementary School Vice Principal Anthony Caparoso for allegedly racially discriminating against their African-American son.

The couple, Desmond and Celeste Clark, claimed that Caparoso repeatedly suspended their four year old son from preschool even though the Board's own policy prohibited suspending preschool students. (The school district, however, alleges that it was not improper to suspend preschool students until 2006 when the New Jersey Department of Education specifically prohibited such suspensions.)

The parents further claim that Caparoso's suspensions were a result of his racial animus toward their son. In support of this claim, the Clarks referred to a statement that Caparoso allegedly made on June 16, 2004 that "I don't like that little black kid, he reminds me of one of those little black kids in the ghetto."

The case is captioned Clark v. Board of Education of the Township of Franklin, Federal Case No. 3:06-cv-02736 and the Clarks' attorney was Brian F. Curley of Morristown. 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 the Clarks' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Franklin Board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Franklin Board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Clarks $80,000 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.