Wednesday, May 3, 2017

ACUA confidentially paid out $97,500 to resolve racial discrimination lawsuit that alleged nooses and Confederate flags.

On May 20, 2016, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) agreed to pay $97,500 to an African-American male employee who said that two Caucasian co-workers "displayed Confederate flags in their vehicles" and that he found "a noose hanging from a chair in his work truck" in June 2015.  Although the matter settled on May 20, 2016, the court was not notified of the settlement until February 10, 2017.

In his complaint, Scott Henry said that his was the second time a noose had been left in the truck of an African-American worker.  According to the lawsuit, "the noose, used in spectacle lynching of African-Americans by white mobs in the years following the Civil War and well into the 20th Century, has become a powerful symbol of oppression and racism."  He claimed that management did not effectively address the matter and only briefly told employees "to stop joking around."

Henry claimed that the day after he found the noose in his truck a Caucasian employee asked him "How's it hanging?"  The lawsuit claims that the comment was "a clear reference to the noose."

An October 25, 2014 Press of Atlantic City article reports that few months after Henry's suit was filed another lawsuit was filed against the ACLU that complained about the noose and  Confederate flags as well as a swastika and "derogatory remarks about Mexican immigrants 'heating up their rice and beans.'"

The case is captioned Henry v. Atlantic County Utilities Authority, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-1872-15 and Henry'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 Henry'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 ACUA or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Henry $97,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.