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NJ Civil Settlements

Perth Amboy school board confidentially paid $174,000 to settle Security Director’s racial discrimination lawsuit.

On September 17, 2017, the Perth Amboy Board of Education (Middlesex County) quietly paid $174,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by its former Director of Security that claimed that the school board replaced him because he refused to hire Hispanic applicants who were less qualified than non-Hispanic applicants.

James Ferriter, who was described in the lawsuit as “a white male,” said that he “was criticized by Hispanic [school board] members for hiring non-Hispanic individuals for security positions instead of Hispanic individuals even though the persons hired were more qualified for the positions.”  He claimed that then Board member Israel Varela told another, Hispanic employee that the school district should “get our own kind” in here.  He claimed that after being informed that his contract was being renewed for the 2011-12 school year, former Superintendent Janine Caffrey recommended that his position be abolished causing his employment to end on August 31, 2011.  Ferriter claimed that his position was later filled by someone who he believed was “willing to recommend for hire individuals in accordance with the [school board’s] discriminatory practices.”

Ferriter’s racial discrimination claims were mentioned in an October 9, 2014 newspaper article entitled “School workers say they were fired because they weren’t Hispanic.”  Bernice Marshall, whose similar claims were featured in the article, settled her lawsuit in 2015 for $170,000.

In addition to Caffrey and Varela, former Board member Kenneth Gonzalez and present member Obdulia Gonzalez were also individually named in the lawsuit.

The case is captioned Ferriter v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-4554-13 and Ferriter’s attorney was Phillip B. Linder of Edison.  Case documents are on-line here.  On October 3, 2017, Robert B. Woodruff of Scotch Plains, who apparently replaced Linder as Ferriter’s attorney, filed a motion to compel the school board to pay the $174,000 settlement amount.

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 Ferriter’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 the Perth Amboy school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ferriter $174,000 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.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project