On October 14, 2020, the Salem City School District (Salem County) paid $55,000 to settle 2018 lawsuit filed by gay school social worker who claimed he was harassed by his supervisor and fellow employees after he told the supervisor that he was taking foster parenting classes. According to the lawsuit, his supervisor and fellow employees told him that he needed “to find a woman and have kids with a woman” and that “You don’t need kids, just get another pet.”

In his February 9, 2018 lawsuit, Joseph Longo, III, who identified himself as a “homosexual male,” claimed that he was mistreated by Director of Special Services Pamela Bates-Thomas, Transition Coordinator Dale Gardner, School Psychologist Dr. Billie Slaughter and Superintendent Dr. Amiot Patrick Michel. According to the lawsuit, Longo told Bates-Thomas in September 2016 that he was taking foster parenting classes. Longo claimed that after he revealed that information, Bates-Thomas and Gardner would make negative comments about him being a foster parent “nearly every day.” Bates-Thomas and Gardner allegedly told Longo that he “was a single man and therefore he did not know what he was doing” and that he should drop his foster children off at the Division of Child Protection and Permanency because he “did not need this.”

While not entirely clear, the lawsuit alleges that Longo took in a new foster child in May 2017 after two other foster children had left his home. The departure of the two children caused Slaughter to tell Longo “I hope you learned your lesson, you don’t need any children,” according to the complaint.

Longo claimed in his lawsuit that Bates-Thomas told him that he “was not a real parent” and that he needed to choose between being a foster parent and his career. She allegedly told Longo that he didn’t deserve a personal day to take the child to a doctor’s appointment. She allegedly said that “Arrangements can be made to return the [foster] child to the [childcare] organization, which would not occur if it is your own child.”

According to the suit, Superintendent Michel asked Longo “invasive and harassing questions” regarding whether he was getting paid to take care of the foster children. Michel allegedly told Longo that because no one paid him (i.e. Michel) to take care of his daughter, Longo was “not a real parent.”

Separately, Longo claimed in his suit that Bates-Thomas was dismissive of an LGBT club at the high school. “I can’t believe they have this club.” she reportedly remarked. When discussing a fellow employee’s role in the LGBT club, Ms. Bates-Thomas reportedly stated, “She likes those LGBT’s” and “she needs to focus on the kids instead of that silly LGBT stuff.”

Of the $55,000 settlement, Longo received $29,135.88 and his attorney received the remaining $25,864.12. As part of the settlement, Longo agreed to “affirmatively withdraw from personal involvement and active participation in Counts Two and Six of the Unfair Practice Charge filed on or about January 8, 2020 and docketed CO-2019-101 and also that he will affirmatively withdraw his Request for Submission of a Panel of Arbitrators filed on or about July 2, 2018 and docketed at AR-2019-03.”

The case is captioned Longo v. Salem City School District, et al, Docket No. SLM-L-33-18 and the plaintiffs’ attorney was Kevin 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 disclosing the settlement’s terms to others. 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 Longo’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 or by any of the school officials mentioned above. All that is known for sure is that the Salem school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Longo $55,000 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]