Monday, August 29, 2016

Employee who dated Toms River school superintendent-cum-felon nets $150,000 settlement on her retaliation and sex harassment claim.

On August 29, 2016, the Toms River Board of Education (Ocean County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $150,000 to be paid to a food service manager who claimed that her June 2014 termination was motivated by her refusal to submit to her direct supervisor's sexual advances and because she had dated a former superintendent who had gone to prison for corruption.

In her suit, Donna Mansfield claimed that interim Superintendent Frank Roselli asked her to resign after Superintendent Michael Ritacco, who Mansfield was dating, was arrested in October 2010 on official corruption charges for receiving more than $1 million in bribes from insurance brokers and other service providers.  When Mansfield refused to resign, Roselli allegedly became angry and retaliated against her by transferring her, taking away assignments and cutting her salary by $20,000.  Roselli was named as Ritacco's replacement in January 2011.

Mansfield claimed that school officials then appointed Peter Brattan to serve as the school district's Food Service Director and as Mansfield's direct supervisor.  She claimed that Brattan sexually harassed her and tried to get her to sign off on fraudulent vouchers.  When she refused his sexual advances and reported him to the union, Brattan allegedly told her that "I am going to bust your balls every day until you leave."

The case is captioned Donna Mansfield v. Toms River Board of Education, Federal Case No. 3:15-cv-01078 and Mansfield's attorney was Emre Polat of New York.  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 Mansfield'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 Toms River or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mansfield $150,000 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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Board of Education, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.