Friday, March 6, 2015

Deptford school board quietly pays $190,000 to settle gay teacher's harassment and discrimination suit.

On March 3, 2013, the Deptford Township Board of Education (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $190,000 to a homosexual male Deptford High School Spanish teacher who claimed to have been "subjected to continuous and egregious harassment based upon his sexual orientation and/or perceptions held regarding his sexual orientation by students at the high school."

In his suit, Marc A. Lopez said that students would repeatedly call him a "fag," "faggot" or "fruity." He also said that they would sing "It's raining men" to him.  Lopez claimed that school officials did not take action to abate the harassment which caused Lopez to request a transfer in January 2011.  Instead, he said he was "laid off" in April 2011. He charged that the school failed in its obligation to provide him "with a working environment free of unlawful discrimination, retaliation and harassment."

The case is captioned Lopez v. Deptford Board of Education, Docket No. GLO-L-2175-11 and Lopez'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 Lopez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $190,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Deptford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lopez $190,000 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 trut
h of what really happened.