Monday, October 18, 2010

Lenape Valley Regional school board pays $275,000 to settle racial slur lawsuit

On March 31, 2010, the Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education (Sussex County) agreed to pay $275,000 to a Byram Township high school student who sued the Board and Principal Douglas deMarrais for failing to take prompt, corrective action after the student's parents reported that their son had been harassed and called racial slurs. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff was one of only 13 African-American students out of a total of 1,970 students enrolled at the high school.

The student is identified in court papers only by his initials, "E.L." His parents, however, are identified as Edward Lee, Sr. and Leanne Lee.

The case is captioned Lee v. Lenape Valley Regional, Federal Case No. 2:06-cv-04634 and Lee's attorneys were Bennet Zurofsky of Newark and Joshua Friedman of Larchmont, New York. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publishing 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 Lee's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $275,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lenape Valley Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lenape Valley Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lee $275,000 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.