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NJ Civil Settlements

South Plainfield confidentially paid $10,000 to settle a race discrimination lawsuit.

On May 11, 2020, the Borough of South Plainfield (Middlesex County) quietly paid $10,000 to a former employee who claimed that he was discriminated against because the Borough paid him substantially less than co-workers of a different race.

In his lawsuit, Thomas Turner, who is black, said that he he worked as a Computer Instructor at the Borough’s Senior Citizen Center for $20 per hour. He claimed that his repeated requests for a raise were rebuffed by Borough officials who told him that “there was no room in the budget.”

Turner said that he submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request that revealed that the Borough had actually been paying “as much as $65 per hour” to “similarly situated white instructors.” He claimed that he had been making less than his white co-workers since 2012.

As part of the settlement, Turner agreed “to voluntarily resign his position as Computer Instructor at the Senior Citizen Center of the Borough of South Plainfield [and] not seek employment with the Borough of South Plainfield in the future.”

The case is captioned Turner v. Borough of South Plainfield, Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-5979-19 and Turner’s attorney was Drake P. Bearden, Jr. of Mount Laurel. Case documents are on-line here.

Of the $10,000, $5,303.74 went to Turner and $4,696.26 went to Turner’s lawyer. Both checks were issued by the Middlesex County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, which is the Borough’s insurer.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement’s terms to others, including the media. 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 the the lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically Borough that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants. All that is known for sure is that South Plainfield, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Turner $10,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision 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 resolve 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