Saturday, January 14, 2017

Elizabeth school board confidentially paid $75,000 to settle school residency investigator's discrimination lawsuit.

On December 15, 2016, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) quietly paid $75,000 to settle a former employee's lawsuit that claimed that the Board refused to hire him, despite his qualifications, and instead hired "an individual of Hispanic ancestry" who had not even applied for the position.

In his suit, Martin P. Starr, a former police officer, said that he worked for eight years investigating whether students actually resided within the school district until his and the positions of five other investigators were terminated for budgetary reasons.  He claimed that school officials refused to remove some nonresident students that he found to be improperly enrolled "because these students were some of the more talented, either academically or athletically, ones in the District."

Later, he twice applied for a residency investigator position that the Board posted.  He claimed that his application was "not properly considered" and that the position was awarded to an Hispanic person who had not submitted an application for the position.

The case is captioned Starr and C.K. v. Elizabeth Township Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3040-13 and UNN-L-4003-15 and Starr's attorney was Peter B. Linder of Edison.  Case documents are on-line here.

Also named as defendants in the matter were Acting Superintendent Pablo Muniz and personnel director Karen Murray.

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 Starr'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 Elizabeth school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Starr $75,000 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.