Friday, January 5, 2018

Somerset Vo-Tech confidentially paid out $110,000 to settle gay teacher's discrimination lawsuit.

On December 18, 2017, Somerset County Vocational Technical Board of Education President William Hyncik quietly signed off on an agreement to pay $110,000 to a former Spanish teacher who claimed that he was relentlessly harassed by students for being gay and that school officials did not take appropriate steps to abate the harassment.

In his suit, Kevin McManus, a tenured teacher who began working at the school in 2008, claimed that he "was subject to a hostile work environment" after a student disclosed McManus' sexual orientation to his Spanish class in May 2011.  Thereafter, other students, particularly two identified in the lawsuit by their initials S.L. and D.M., began taunting him with comments such as "don't choke on that d**k," "do you like nuts?" and "do you like fudge?"

McManus claimed that he reported all the harassment incidents to Jamie Morales, the school's disciplinary coordinator, who allegedly "did not take appropriate steps to stop it."  Instead, Morales reportedly "encouraged D.M. to 'keep doing what you're doing'" and to "document Mr. McManus' activity during class."

McManus claimed that he also complained to Principal Diane Ziegler and Affirmative Action Officer Teresa Morelli who also did not appropriately respond to the harassment.  According to the lawsuit, Ziegler wrote to McManus in October 2013 and stated that she had a "classroom management concern" regarding McManus and stated that "professional development in the area is encouraged."

After McManus filed a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, he claimed claimed that school officials retaliated against him.  McManus claimed that he was not allowed to use personal days to create long weekends and that he was denied paid leaves of absence due to medical conditions caused by the reported harassment.

He claimed that Superintendent Chrys Harttraft, who allegedly said that "she did not believe that [McManus] was 'homosexual' because 'he is not effeminate,'" demanded his resignation in March 2014.  McManus said that he did resign in November 2014.

According to the settlement agreement, McManus will receive $66,905.68 of the $110,000 while his lawyer will receive $43,094.32.

The case is captioned McManus v. Board of Education of the Somerset County Vocational & Technical Schools, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-314-15 and McManus' attorney was Andrew M. Moskowitz of Springfield. The civil complaint is on-line here and the settlement agreement is on-line here.

The settlement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  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 McManus' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that the school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay McManus $110,000 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.