Friday, July 4, 2014

Southern Regional pays $325,000 to settle five women's Law Against Discrimination suit.

On October 18, 2006, the Southern Regional Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $325,000 to five women who claimed that a school district official "notoriously committed, on an ongoing and continuous basis, remarkable, egregious conduct prohibited by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination."  Under the terms of the confidential settlement agreement, each woman received $47,500 while their attorney received $88,500 plus $1,500 in court costs.

In their suit, Carol Cornelius, Carmasita DeSalvo, Jodi Wallis, Merry Niewojna and Stephanie Chadwick, all of whom worked for the school district as administrative personnel, said District Business Administrator James A. Moran had "an apparent prejudice against people of color" because he often referred to his son's Jamaican girlfriend in a racially derogatory manner.  Beyond his alleged racism, the women complained that Moran would "regularly, almost on a daily basis, discuss personal, supposed amorous relationships digressing often into detailed, graphic accounts of [his] purported sexual activity."  The lawsuit, which is at the link below, describes the plaintiffs' allegation in graphic detail.  The suit went on to say that Moran retaliated against the women when they complained about his misconduct.

The lawsuit claimed that in exchange for his 2003 resignation, the school district gave him a $200,000 "golden parachute."  The terms of Moran's separation of employment from the school district are confirmed by Judge Stanley R. Chesler's February 10, 2006 opinion (on line here) in Moran v. Southern Regional, Case No. 05-1062.

According to a December 9, 2009 Press of Atlantic City article, "Stafford Township agrees to contract with new administrator James Moran," Moran was hired by Stafford Township after separating from employment with Southern Regional.  According to Stafford Township's August 16, 2016 response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Moran serves as Township Administrator who is "currently making $182,436.84 annually."

The case is captioned Cornelius et al v Moran et al, Federal Case No. 04-cv-3765 and the women's attorney was Michael W. Hoffman of Forked River.  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 women's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $325,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Moran, Southern Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Southern Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the women $325,000 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.