Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sparta school board confidentially paid $50,000 to settle former custodian's wrongful termination lawsuit.

On March 21, 2016, the Sparta Board of Education (Sussex County) quietly paid $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former custodian who said that he was wrongfully terminated.

In his suit, Hector Acevedo said that since he began his employment with the school district in 1996, he received positive reviews and compliments on his competence.  He said that school district officials fired him on June 30, 2014 based on "alleged verbal comments" that Acevedo claimed he did not utter.  Acevedo, who was 56 years old when he filed his lawsuit in August 2015, also said that he was one of only two Spanish speaking people in his department and that the real cause of his firing was "his age, nationality, and minority status."

The case is captioned Acevedo v. Sparta Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MRS-L-2058-14 and Acevedo's attorney was Mark J. Brancato of Boonton.  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 Acevedo'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 Sparta school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Acevedo $50,000 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.