Sunday, November 29, 2015

Elizabeth school board secretly pays $80,000 to settle custodian's worker's comp and wrongful termination suit.

On October 21, 2015, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $80,000 to the estate of a female custodial worker who claimed that she was terminated because she filed a worker's compensation claim.  $30,000 of the amount was attributed her wrongful discharge suit and $50,000 was for the underlying worker's compensation claim.

In her suit, Bernny Montaguth claimed that when she returned to work after having been injured "as a result of work-related incidents on the job and as a result of repetitive occupational activities," she was placed in the "rubber room" and was not allowed to perform her regular duties.  She claimed that the Board fired her on June 10, 2011 "without a statement of reasons or the opportunity to be heard."

The case is captioned Montaguth v. Elizabeth Board of Education, et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-2920-11 and Montaguth's attorney was Matthew T. Rinaldo of Clark.  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 Montaguth's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Montaguth $80,000 than take the matters 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.