Sunday, July 10, 2016

Lakewood school board confidentially paid $25,000 to settle former teacher's discrimination lawsuit.

On February 22, 2016, the Lakewood Board of Education (Ocean County) quietly paid $25,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former 5th grade teacher who claimed she was let go because she was pregnant.

In her suit, Dana Gibson said that her 5th grade teaching contract was not renewed because she was pregnant which is a disability under [the Law Against Discrimination]."  She claimed that school officials told her that the reason for her non-renewal was that "she had not demonstrated the ability to deliver high-quality instruction on a consistent basis and that the classroom instruction demonstrated low teacher/student expectations."  Gibson claimed, however, that this was "false and pretextual" because she was regularly observed by her supervisors and was never informed of any alleged shortcomings.

The case is captioned Gibson v. Lakewood Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-115-14 and Gibson's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 Gibson'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 Lakewood school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gibson $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.