On April 8, 2014, the Pleasantville Board of Education (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a former special education teacher who sued the Board for refusing to renew her contract in retaliation against her for reporting that the Board was not making required pension contributions.

In her suit, Sandra Smith said that in 2010 she told school business administrator Dennis Mulvihill, union president Mark Delcher and comptroller Elijah Tompkins about the board’s alleged failure to make the required pension contributions.  She also claimed to have filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Law on September 20, 2010.  She said that she then received a non-renewal notice effective June 30, 2011.

The case is captioned Smith v. Pleasantville Board of Education, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-9823-11 and Smith’s attorney was Louis M. Barbone of Atlantic City.  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 Smith’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pleasantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Smith $30,000 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.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]