On December 23, 2015, the Pleasantville Board of Education (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a Caucasian employee who complained that she was repeatedly passed over for promotion and that the positions were given to less qualified African-Americans. 

In her suit, Renee Marie Irwin, who has been employed by the school district since 1997, stated that in 2003 she applied for the Alternative School’s assistant principal position but that the job was given to a “less qualified African-American teacher.”  After working as an assistant principal for three years in another district, she returned to Pleasantville in 2007, applied for another assistant principal position and once again claimed to have lost out to less qualified African-American.  She claimed that the same thing happened during the 2012/13 school year when she applied for interim assistant principal.

According to the complaint, Irwin was finally given the chance to work as an interim principal at Pleasantville High School but her position was eliminated for “financial reasons” in February 2013.  When the position was again posted, Irwin claimed that she again lost out to an African-American.  She claimed that she was also similarly passed over in 2013 and 2014.

As of the date of this writing, Irwin is listed as the assistant principal of the Leeds Avenue School.

The case is captioned Irwin v. Pleasantville Board of Education, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-5807-14 and Irwin’s attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  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 Irwin’s 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 Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Irwin $45,000 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]