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NJ Civil Settlements

Wildwood Board of Education paid out $400,000 to resolve female custodian’s sex harassment claim.

On August 13, 2020, the Wildwood Board of Education (Cape May County) agreed to pay $400,000 to a high school custodian who claimed that she was sexually harassed and retaliated against by her supervisor and that senior school officials shrugged off her complaints.

In her lawsuit, Donna M. Howard, a custodian at Wildwood High School, claimed that Buildings and Grounds supervisor Patrick Quinlan “began harassing her and making sexual advances towards her” starting in early 2012. When Howard rejected Quinlan’s alleged advances, he reportedly retaliated against her by denial of overtime, threats to fire her and that he “began a pattern of reprimands for things that did not occur.” Howard claimed that Quinlan also required her to perform duties that were dangerous and aggressively screamed at her “how lousy a worker she was.”

Howard claimed that Wildwood Board of Education member Lynn Quinlan, who is Patrick Quinlan’s wife, also told her that “you should just quit” and threatened to fire her.

Howard said that she complained repeatedly to former Superintendent Dennis Anderson, current Superintendent J. Kenyon Kummings, former Business Administrator Martha Jamison and Assistant Supervisor of Building and Grounds Franciso “Junior” Velez. According to the complaint, “they were all aware of it [and] they indicated there was nothing they could do about it and allowed it to continue.” Anderson, Kummings, Jamison and Velez, as well as Lynn Quinlan, were all named as defendants in Howard’s lawsuit.

Of the $400,000 settlement, $225,150 was used to purchase a New York Life annuity policy that will pay Howard $1,000 per month “guaranteed for 20 years certain plus the life of Donna Howard.” The remaining $174,850 was paid jointly to Howard and her attorney.

According to the district’s August 25, 2020 response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Howard was paid a $39,198 salary and left the district’s employ in June 30, 2016. The reason listed for her separation from employment is “Not offered job, performance.”

According to the same OPRA response, Patrick Quinlan is still employed by the district at a $80,931 annual salary and has served there for 16 years.

According to the school district’s website, Lynn Quinlan is a Board of Education member as of the date of this writing.

The case is captioned Howard v. Wildwood Board of Education, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-51-18 and Howard’s attorney was Kevin P. McCann of Bridgeton. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Howard’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 Wildwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Howard $400,000 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.