On March 26, 2014, the Perth Amboy Board of Education (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $199,999 to a female teacher who claimed that school district officials did not take proper action after she was sexually assaulted by another teacher in her classroom.
In her suit, Kara Sakowski said that on February 22, 2010, she was in her Robert N. Wilentz School classroom when Eric Combs, a permanent substitute teacher for the school district, came in and “closed the door, causing it to become locked from the outside.” She claimed that Combs “grabbed her violently, picked her off of the floor and slammed her against a concrete wall” and then proceeded to commit “various unwelcome sexual acts . . , including, but not limited to, forcefully kissing her and fondling her breasts, legs and groin area.”
Sakowski claimed that she went to the school office to report the incident to Principal Roland Jenkins and Vice-Principal Thomas Zmigrodski, but that both were unavailable. She said that after another teacher, Mary Griffin, interceded on her behalf she had a meeting with Jenkins and Zmigrodski. Sakowski claimed that neither man contacted the police but simply sent her back to her classroom. According to the lawsuit, Jenkins and Zmigrodski recalled Sakowski to Jenkins’ office where Combs was “made to apologize” to her. Jenkins allegedly said that “he did not believe it was necessary to contact the police for Mr. Combs’ sexual assault and battery” but that “if it happened again, he would support her going to the police.” Zmigrodski allegedly stated to Sakowski that he hoped that they could put the incident behind them and let “by-gones be by-gones.”
Two days after the incident, Sakowski claimed, she went to see William Stratton, head of the school board’s Human Resources Department, who said that “he needed to contact the police.”
The case is captioned Sakowski v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-418.11 and Sakowski’s attorney was Steven T. Sullivan, Jr. of Red Bank. 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 Sakowski’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $199,999 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Perth Amboy school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sakowski $199,999 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.