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NJ Civil Settlements

Commercial Township School District paid $220,000 to settle four employee discrimination suits.

On May 9, 2019, the Commercial Township School District (Cumberland County) approved an agreement that paid four district school employees, all in their 40’s or 50’s, $220,000 to settle lawsuits that claimed that the district’s former Superintendent and school board members created a hostile work environment for them “due to [their] age, sex, and/or gender and/or in retaliation against [them].”

The plaintiffs in the four separate lawsuits were Tricia Sammons, Karen Hand, Margaret Cox, and Sandra Caromano who were ages 55, 59, 55 and 46 respectively when their lawsuits were filed in 2018. Each claimed that former Superintendent Daniel J. Dooley and other officials retaliated against them.

The lawsuits, each of which contain more than 120 numbered paragraphs, allege abuses too numerous to set forth in this article. A brief summary follows. More details can be obtained by reading the lawsuits at the link below.

  • Tricia Sammons: Sammons was a teacher with over 15 years with the district who said she was formerly Teacher of the Year. She claimed that Dooley treated her with hostility by transferring a violent student into her classroom from another classroom where the student “could be instructed/supervised by two teachers.” After the transfer, the student allegedly attacked Sammons and other students. She alleged that she was involuntarily transferred from 2nd grade to 6th though 8th grade because Dooley knew that the older students were the “lowest performing” and that he could “falsely blame” Sammons for their low test scores.
  • Karen Hand: Hand was an administrative assistant who claimed she was forced out of her job in 2017 after “nearly forty years of employment.” She claimed that Dooley “yelled at and degraded her,” threatened to have her fired and claimed that she was “no longer useful” and that he could find “three women off the street” that he could pay with her salary who would “do a better job” than Hand. Dooley repeatedly asked her questions such as “Why are you still here?” and “If I was your age, I would not still be working,” according to the lawsuit. He reportedly told her that “he needed to hire young women fresh out of college” that could “keep up with me.” Hand claimed that she was falsely accused of forging Dooley’s signature on a fire drill report and that Dooley presented a “doctored [fire alarm] report to the Board of Education.”
  • Margaret Cox: Cox, a teacher since 2014, claimed that Dooley’s “hostile, harassing, and/or retaliatory treatment” caused her to be terminated in June 2016. She claimed that school officials forbade her from communicating with her students’ parents and refused to provide her with administrative support. In March of 2016, she claimed that she was was falsely charged with failing to prevent one student from bullying another. She claimed that Dooley and other official intentionally delayed finalizing her performance evaluation so that the bullying charge could be used as an excuse to terminate her.
  • Sandra Caromano: Caromano, who has worked as a teacher for 21 years, claimed that Dooley “yelled at [her] in front of others without just cause and in an unprofessional manner.” She claimed that in May of 2016, Dooley ordered to her attend a disciplinary meeting regarding a conversation she allegedly had with a parent outside of work hours. She claimed that Dooley threatened to take unfounded action against her unless she signed a letter of apology even though she claimed to have done nothing wrong. She claimed that she filed a grievance and that Dooley refused to consider it.

On July 1, 2018, Dooley was hired by the Absecon Board of Education to serve as superintendent. He currently earns a base salary of $154,000. His Absecon payroll record and his resume are on-line here.

The cases are captioned as Tricia Sammons v. Commercial Township School District, et al, Docket No. CUM-L-514-18, Karen Hand, v. Commercial Township School District, et al, Docket No. CUM-L-361-18, Margaret Cox v. Commercial Township School District, et al, Docket No. CUM-L-290-18 and Sandra Caromano v. Commercial Township School District, et al, Docket No. CUM-L-473-18 and the attorney for all was Douglas M. Long of Woodbury. Case documents are on-line here.

None of the the employees’ allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Dooley or any of the defendants. All that is known for sure is that the Commercial school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay these employees $220,000 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. Please send all comments to paff@pobox.com