Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bridgeton school board secretly pays $40,000 to settle paraplegic's discrimination suit.

On January 29, 2014, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a "paraplegic who is absent both legs" who sued the Bridgeton school board for discriminating against him by refusing to hire him for a full time position.

In his suit, Adrian Garrett, who served as a substitute teacher since 2009, said that he had applied for multiple full-time positions with the Bridgeton school district but was not offered any position or even an interview.  He claimed that the district's Affirmative Action Officer, Tyrone Williams, said that Garrett "would probably not get the position because [the district] needed someone who could 'get around.'"  He claimed to have also been denied positions as truancy officer and teachers aide.  He claimed that the teachers aide position that he applied for was filled by Elizabeth Cartagena, who Garrett claimed was less qualified than he.

The case is captioned Garrett v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Docket No. CUM-L-329-13 and Garrett's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 Garrett's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bridgeton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Garrett $40,000 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.