Tuesday, May 19, 2015

LEAP Academy quietly pays $50,000 to settle employee's whistle blower suit.

On August 25, 2014, a Camden County charter school agreed to pay $50,000 to its former facilities manager who claimed he was retaliated against for reporting his supervisor's alledged requirement that he make repairs to her personal residence on the school's time and using school resources.

In his suit, Mark Paoli of Audubon said that Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Ph.D., the chief operating officer of the LEAP Academy University Charter School, required him to perform maintenance on her Voorhees home over a ten year period while Paoli was supposed to be working for the school.  Paoli's complaint listed several tasks, ranging from replacing light bulbs and fixing leaks to powerwashing her deck and picking up a picture frame and delivering it to her home.  Paoli's lawsuit claims that a laborer he needed for one task was paid for with a check drawn on the Alfred Santiago Scholarship Endowment.

Paoli claimed that his complaints to school administrators, including Business Administrator Pasquale Yacovelli, caused him to receive a poor evaluation, a cut in pay and ultimately replacement by a less-qualified person.

The case is captioned Paoli v. LEAP Academy, Docket No. CAM-L-114-13 and Paoli's attorney was Allan E. Richardson of Woodbyry.  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 Paoli's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by LEAP or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that LEAP or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Paoli $50,000 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.