On December 9, 2016, the Burlington County Institute of Technology (BCIT) quietly paid $65,000 to settle a former African-American student’s lawsuit which claimed that he was repeatedly racially harassed by other students and that school officials took no corrective action.
In his suit, Venice Samuel, III of Willingboro, who was a minor at the time the suit was filed but an adult at the time it was settled, claimed that he suffered several incidents of racial harassment during his junior and senior years at the BCIT’s Medford Campus. Samuel claimed that he was repeatedly called a n****r during October 2012 by a student identified in the lawsuit only as “D.D.” He said that Assistant Principal Michael Parker failed to take any action after receiving Samuel’s complaints.
Similarly, Samuel claimed that Principal Frank Ranelli and Assistant Principals Heidi Bouchard and Fred Aiken failed to take meaningful action after D.D. and four other students wore T-shirts with Confederate flags on them in November 2012 and a white student identified only as “A.P.” spit a piece of gum at him in December 2012. Samuel and his mother claimed that when they reported the harassment to Superintendent Donald Lucas, Lucas also took no action and instead recommended that Samuel attend anger management classes.
Samuel claimed that the harassment continued through his senior year during which students would make “racist jokes in which African-Americans were the punchline” and which referred to African-Americans liking chicken and Kool-Aid. Again, school officials allegedly took no meaningful action in response to Samuel’s complaints.
The case is captioned V.S. v. Burlington Township Institute of Technology, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. BUR-L-2319-14 and Samuel’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 Samuel’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 BCIT or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Samuel $65,000 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.