Friday, July 21, 2017

Bridgeton Board of Education paid out $197,500 to settle former employee's whistleblower lawsuit.

On April 10, 2017, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $197,500 to a former teacher who said that her contract was not renewed after she complained that school officials would not help protect her from repeated physical assaults by students.

In her lawsuit, Michelle Andrews claimed that after she was assaulted by a student in January 2015, she filed a criminal complaint against the student and asked school officials "that the student who assaulted her be removed from her class so she would be protected from future violent acts."  Andrews claimed that her supervisors refused her request and told her to "put on her big girl pants and deal with it."  She claimed that she was again struck in the face by a student on March 18, 2015 when she was trying to break up a fight and was "body checked" by a female student shortly thereafter.  Andrews claimed that her supervisors did not write up or document the latter assault even though it was captured by a video camera.

After she formally complained to the Superintendent of Schools an offer to renew her contract was allegedly rescinded.  Andrews claimed that the non-renewal was done to retaliate against her for having complained.

The lawsuit was covered by the Daily Journal shortly after it was filed.  According to the article, the students who assaulted Andrews were sixth-graders.

As part of the settlement, the school board agreed to give a neutral job reference to Andrews' future employers.


The case is captioned Andrews v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Docket No. CUM-L-387-16 and Andrews' attorney was Richard M. Pescatore of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Andrews' 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 Andrews $197,500 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.