On March 4, 2015, the Township of Stafford (Ocean County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a female animal control officer who claimed gender discrimination when she wasn’t being paid in accordance with the Township’s salary ordinance.

In her suit, Kelly Karch, who became a full time animal control officer in March 2012, said that she was paid $23,689.71 in 2012 even though the Township’s salary ordinance required her pay to be between $36,530.22 and $58,950.06.  She claimed that being female was a “motivating factor” for the Township’s decision to pay her less.

The case is captioned Karch v. Stafford, Docket No. OCN-L-2093-13 and Karch’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 Karch’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Stafford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Stafford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Karch $20,000 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]