Thursday, May 12, 2016

Perth Amboy school board confidentially pays $170,000 to settle HR Manager's racial discrimination lawsuit.

On November 19, 2015, the Perth Amboy Board of Education (Middlesex County) quietly paid $170,000 to settle its former human resources manager's lawsuit that claimed that Board members were so biased in favor of Hispanics that they "paid for Administrators of the Perth Amboy School District to travel to Puerto Rico to recruit Hispanic individuals."

In her suit, Bernice Marshall, who is African-American, said that the Board voted on May 7, 2014 to abolish her position of Human Resources Manager and created another similar position called Director of Personnel and Evaluations.  The newly created position, which Marshall said was later offered to two individuals of Hispanic descent, required a certification that Marshall said she was working to receive and would have attained within two months.

Marshall claims that she was "berated in Spanish" and subjected to a pattern of intimidation and harassment by Acting Superintendent Vivian Rodriguez. According to the suit, Board member Israel Varela said that Rodriguez's alleged treatment of Marshall was to "teach her a lesson."

Marshall's racial discrimination claims were featured in an October 9, 2014 newspaper article entitled "School workers say they were fired because they weren't Hispanic."

Named in the suit were Rodriguez and individual Board members Obdulia Gonzalez, Israel Varela, Dianne Roman, Kenneth Puccio, Milady Tejeda, Maria Garcia, Anthony Bermudez, Samuel Lebreault, and William Ortiz.

The case is captioned Marshall v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-5615-14 and Marshall's attorney was Christopher M. Leddy of Freehold.  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 Marshall's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the Perth Amboy school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Marshall $170,000 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.