Thursday, September 25, 2014

Updated: Perth Amboy school board secretly pays $45,000 to settle secretary's suit over illegal booze business in school.

Correction: I have discovered the that $45,000 settlement did not go to Susan Nieves.  A closer reading showed that it went to Linda Nagy, who was apparently named as a third-party in the lawsuit by Principal Alvaro Cores.  It was Nagy, not Nieves, who received the $45,000 and had disciplinary letters removed from her files under the settlement agreement.
 I am currently attempting to track down other court filings in order to determine the outcome of this lawsuit. 
I regret this error.
On July 21, 2014, the Board of Education of Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a school secretary who claimed she was retaliated against after reporting that a secretary in the Dr. Herbert Richardson School was running an illegal alcohol sales and distribution business in the main office of a public elementary school."

In her suit, Susan Nieves said in mid-November 2011 elementary school secretary Hector Muniz advertised "that he was a 'mixologist' that was selling mixed drinks for the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years holidays."  According to the lawsuit, Nieves witnessed "parents and staff purchasing bottles of coquito and other mixed drinks were offered at Muniz's desk."  (Coquito is an alcoholic beverage usually made with rum and coconut milk.)  She claimed that Principal Alvaro Cores and Vice-Principal Karen Moffatt both publicly purchased bottle of coquito during the school day.

When she reported the alleged alcohol sales, Nieves claimed that Cores and Moffatt retaliated against her by issuing her bogus reprimands.  Her suit claims that Superintendent Janine Cafferty was an "aider and abetter" of the retaliation.  As part of the settlement, certain disciplinary letters from her personnel file.

The case is captioned Nieves v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-925-12 and Nieves's attorney was Stephen E. Klausner of Manville.  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 Nieves's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Perth Amboy or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Perth Amboy or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Nieves $45,000 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.