Friday, August 29, 2014

Bergen County school board pays $10,000 to secretly settle teacher's whistleblower and age discrimination suit.

On July 25, 2013, the Bergen County Board of Education and Bergen County Special Services agreed to pay $10,000 to a 61-year old former special education teacher who claimed that she was denied tenure because of her age and her complaints about a violent student.

In her suit, Anne Tremble of Westwood said since 2007, she had worked as a teacher of autistic 13 to 16 year olds who she described as "very aggressive children."  She alleged that she was particularly fearful on one male student "whose behavior escalated weekly, and who made direct threats of violence to Tremble and other employees."  She said that this student, who was eventually taken out of her class, "stated he was going to bring a gun or knife to school, and that he had access to such weapons from his mother's boyfriend who was a hunter."  The student allegedly told "a female classmate he hoped [Tremble] was raped and attacked."

Shortly after the student's removal from Tremble's classroom, she claims that "her contract was not being extended for the new school year, even though she would have received tenure if she had worked even one day into the new year."  She claims that "younger, non-tenured teachers" were given preference over her.

The case is captioned Tremble v. Bergen County, et al, Docket No. BER-L-3025-12 and Tremble's attorney was Gerald Jay Resnick of Roseland.  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 Tremble's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bergen County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Tremble $10,000 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.