Friday, August 29, 2014

Lacey school board pays $25,000 to secretly settle lawsuit by male employee who claimed discrimination and retaliation.

On May 13, 2014, the Lacey Township Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former employee who sued the school board for discriminating against him because of his gender and for retaliating against him for "disclosing or threatening to disclose illegal activity as a conscientious employee."

In his suit, Joseph Amaniera of Forked River, who was a food service worker at the Lacey Township High School, alleged that he "was not permitted to use an un-labeled restroom in the kitchen of the cafeteria because he was a male." Instead, he was allegedly "told he had to use the students facility in the hallways of the school or seek a janitor to open a faculty restroom."  After he complained the the school superintendent, he was allowed to use the kitchen restroom but, because of his complaint, "he was shunned by his co-workers and treated poorly . . . denied overtime [and] substitute work for the janitor."

Amaniera also claimed that there were "poor sanitary and soiled food conditions" at the cafeteria of which he took photographs and videos.  When he brought the video and photographs to the superintendent, he was allegedly "chastised" and fired two days later.

The case is captioned Amaniera v. Lacey Township Board of Education, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1155-12 and Amaniera's attorney was John P. Brennan of Avon-by-the-Sea.  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 Amaniera's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Lacey school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lacey or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Amaniera $25,000 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.