Saturday, November 5, 2016

Bridgeton Board of Education to confidentially pay $60,000 to settle former employee's race-based harassment lawsuit.

On November 3, 2016, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $60,000 to be paid to a former, African-American teacher who said that she was forced out of her job by a hostile, racially charged work environment.

In her lawsuit, Sakina Davis claimed that Christine Barlas, the Caucasian principal at the Geraldyn O. Foster Early Childhood Center on Buckshutem Road, put Davis in charge of disciplining African-American students "because the school did not want African-American parents coming in and becoming 'aggressive' with Caucasian administrators and teachers."

Davis alleges that Barlas made racially derogatory comments to her such as opining that "African-American parents did not have the same level of care for their students' educational experience as did Caucasian and Hispanic Parents" and that Black mothers often had "drug dealing boyfriends" that exposed young African-American males to violence.  Davis also says that Barlas did not intervene when special education teacher Jane Krokos "implied that African-American students were disproportionately disruptive" and should be put in their own class so as to not "ruin" the educational experience for Caucasian and Hispanic students. Davis said that she was forced to resign because the "retaliatory harassment and non-response to the racial harassment became too much for her."

The case is captioned Davis v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Docket No. CUM-L-439-13 and Davis' attorney was Kevin 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 Davis' 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 Bridgeton school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Davis $60,000 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.+