Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Little Egg Harbor school board secretly pays $25,000 to settle wrongful termination suit.

On November 25, 2015, the Little Egg Harbor Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former school Cafeteria/Playground Aide who alleged that she was fired for complaining about special needs children, including her sister's children, being supervised by non-certified aides.

In her suit, Joette Montee, who worked for the school district's Frog Pond Elementary School, claimed that whenever her sister contacted the school to complain about how the sister's children were educated, Principal Troy Henderson would become very upset and order Montee to "stop talking to parents," specifically her sister, about what goes on at school.  She claimed that she was fired "for making a comment of a personal and private nature to a third party in a conversation that [she] reasonably believed to be confidential in nature."

In contrast, a December 13, 2012 school incident report claimed that Montee walked into the school cafeteria loudly repeating that school Principal Troy Henderson "needs to keep his d*** in his pants" and that he does not know how to run a school or control children.  According to the report, Montee, who was escorted off school grounds by officers while saying "I've had it with this f***ing place," was using profanity loudly enough for children to hear and was "making people in the cafeteria feel uncomfortable."

The case is captioned Montee v. Little Egg Harbor Board of Education, et al, Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-3835-13 and Montee's attorney was Benjamin B. Brenner of Galloway.  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 Montee's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Little Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Little Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Montee $25,000 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.