Monday, September 26, 2016

Little Silver Board of Education confidentially paid out $290,000 to settle Special Services Supervisor's discrimination lawsuit.

On November 15, 2015, the Little Silver Board of Education (Monmouth County) quietly agreed to pay $290,000 to its former Special Services Supervisor who claimed that she was fired "because she did not accede to the inappropriate sexual advances of" of the Superintendent.

In her suit, JoAnn Riley said that shortly after her hiring, Superintendent Carolyn M. Kossack sent her frequent texts of a personal and sexual nature regarding Kossack's prior female lovers.  Kossack allegedly flirted with Riley, invited her to the beach and joked about converting her into a lesbian.   Riley said that when she rebuffed Kossack's advances, Kossack became "hostile and threatening." 

Riley said that she and her union representative, Principal Dennis Morolda, met with Kossack in November 2012. She said that Kossack fired her and that Morolda, despite his obligatation to represent Riley's interests, instead "acted in concert with Carolyn Kossack to harass JoAnn Riley, and otherwise create a hostile work environment."  Riley said that Morolda would "smile in [her] face" while he was "secretly operating behind her back to help Dr. Kossack disparage, demean, and destroy" her.

Riley said that Board members Kevin Brennan, Christian Smith, Meggan Bateman, Michael Grant, Andrew Walsh and Lorre Weisman, all of whom were named as defendants in the suit, refused her demand to hold the discussion of her employment in public session and voted to fire her.  She said that school officials then interfered with her ability to obtain employment elsewhere.

The case is captioned Riley v. Little Silver Public Schools, et al, Superior Case Docket No. MON-L-1359-13 and Riley's attorney was Eric S. Pennington of Newark.  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 the Riley'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 Little Silver or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Riley $290,000 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.