Saturday, September 10, 2016

Millburn Board of Education paid out $435,000 to settle African-American family's lawsuit.

On June 17, 2016, the Millburn Board of Education (Essex County) agreed to pay $435,000 to an African-American family who claimed that school officials turned a blind eye toward racially motivated bullying directed at one of the family's sons, who was then attending Millburn High School.  The family also claim that the son was improperly expelled from school and that Board of Education attempted to condition a grant of an adjournment of the son's expulsion hearing upon the family giving up its right to sue.

In their suit, the parents, Darryl George and Brenda Barnes-George, and their son Omari George, described Millburn as a township with very few African-American residents.  They claimed that as of the day of his enrollment, Omari was subjected to racial slurs and physical injuries, including a broken nose, at the hands of older students.  They claimed that neither Millburn High School Principal William Miron nor Vice-Principal Michelle Pitts took appropriate action except for a January 9, 2009 mediation session that resulted in no disciplinary action being taken.

According to the complaint, an confrontation between Omari and his brother Lamar occurred on January 9, 2009.  Omari and Lamar said that the confrontation occurred when they were walking to the school from their father's car causing them to run back to the car. There, Lamar, reportedly took a baseball bat from his father's car "to protect himself" and was again confronted by the same student when he walked back to school.  According to the lawsuit, "Lamar defended himself resulting in an impact between the baseball bat and [student's] leg."  A fight then broke out involving the student, Omari and Lamar.

Omari, Lamar and their father Darryl were all arrested as they attempted to leave the school in Darryl's car.  According to the lawsuit, all charges against them were ultimately dismissed.  Superintendent Richard Brodow allegedly placed Omari on suspension for nine days but took no action against the other students who were involved in the altercation.  Rather, Brodow reportedly announced to newspapers that the student who allegedly confronted Lamar and Omari was a "hero" and said that the altercation was "conspiracy by members of the George family to assault" other students.  Omari was expelled on March 4, 2009 but that decision was reversed by the Commissioner of Education on November 12, 2010.

The case is captioned Omari George, et al v. Millburn Board of Education, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-0043 and the Georges' attorneys were Harry Jay Levin and Colleen Flynn Cyphers of Toms River.  Case documents are on-line here.  The settlement agreement was signed solely by Omari George and not by his parents.

None of the George family'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 Millburn or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the family $435,000 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.