Saturday, December 31, 2016

Barnegat school board confidentially paid $60,000 to settle middle school student's sexual harassment lawsuit.

On July 25, 2016, the Barnegat Board of Education (Ocean County) quietly paid $60,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Brackman Middle School student who claimed that school officials were "willfully indifferent" toward her complaints of being sexually harassed by another student.

In her suit, the student, identified only her initials K.K., claimed that another student, referred to as S.H., regularly referred to her as "a cunt, whore, slut and bitch" and threw objects at her.  Despite having made "numerous complaints" to school officials, nothing was allegedly done to remedy the issue.

The case is captioned K.K. and C.K. v. Barnegat Township Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-2013-14 and K.K.'s attorney was Kevin M. 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 K.K.'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 Barnegat school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay K.K. $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.