Thursday, March 10, 2016

Brooklawn school board confidentially pays $25,000 to resolve wrongful firing, defamation lawsuit.

On January 7, 2016, the Brooklawn Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former school maintenance man who claimed in a lawsuit that the Board's former president and the school district's superintendent orchestrated a plan to fire him without cause.  The man's lawsuit also alleged that the Board violated the Open Public Meetings Act and that the former Board president fabricated a story about the custodian being a thief and caused that story to be circulated around the school system by the maintenance man's daughter's classmate.

In his lawsuit, Ryan Kincaid said that on June 12, 2014 Superintendent Dr. John Kellmayer "illegally searched [Kincaid's] backpack" without probable cause and without Kincaid being present or having granted his permission.  He claimed that later that day, he and his union representative were called to Kellmayer's office where Kincaid consented a Kellmayer's request to search the backpack. According to Kincaid, the search came up empty.

Kincaid asserts that Kellmayer, along with former Board President Bruce Darrow, "orchestrated a plan to wrongfully terminate [him] for reasons that were willful, wanton and in bad faith."  According to Kincaid, Kellmayer and Darrow realized that they "could not use theft as a reason to terminate" him so "they devised the scheme of [his] alleged excessive use of the Internet as the reason for the termination."

When he was served with a Rice Notice, Kincaid said that he opted to have his disciplinary hearing held in public rather than in closed or executive session.  He claimed that despite his election, he was only allowed to make a statement in public after which the Board went into closed session.

Kincaid also accused Darrow of being the source of a false rumor that Kincaid was fired for stealing laptops and notebook computers.  He said that on December 19, 2014, his daughter was approached by two girls on the playground and informed that a another girl had been telling all the other children at her school that Kincaid was a thief.  A subsequent investigation allegedly showed that "the source of the false statement was attributed to the Board's president, Bruce Darrow."

The case is captioned Kincaid v. Brooklawn Public School District, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-531-15 and Kincaid's attorney was Guido Babore of Merchantville.  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 Kincaid'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 the Brooklawn school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Brooklawn school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kincaid $25,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.