In 2019, two teachers filed a “whistleblower” lawsuit against the school district. The district responded by suing the two teachers in federal court for allegedly accessing its Google Drive illegally. In 2021, one teacher sued the district for an OPRA violation after which all parties released each other and dismissed all three lawsuits without payment.

THE “WHISTLEBLOWER” LAWSUIT. DOCKET NO. GLO-L-250-19.

The two special education teachers, Colleen Clement and Selena M. Callan, were hired by the Harrison Township (Gloucester County) School District in 2008 and 2015, respectively. They alleged in their “whistleblower” lawsuit that school officials, including Superintendent Margaret Peretti and Supervisor of Student Services Lori Hynes, deprived them of access to a violent third grade student’s “behavior plan” and violated federal law by not complying with and unilaterally amending the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

The teachers claimed that the student struck Clement in the stomach when she was five months pregnant and also struck an aide and other students. Clement said that she became ill due to the stress caused by the student’s violent outbursts. She alleged that when she tried to discuss the student, Hynes “placed her hands on Clement’s shoulders in a hostile/aggressive manner.” Clement also claimed that Peretti told her that “your physical well-being is not my concern.”

Callan claimed that the hostile work environment created by school officials caused her to have panic attacks. She claimed that her performance evaluations were reduced “with retaliatory intent” which led to her contract not being renewed. Clement claimed that she “was forced to resign her employment with the District due to the outrageous, coercive and unconscionable behavior” of school officials.

Callan and Clement were represented in this lawsuit by Jacqueline M. Vigilante of Mullica Hill.

THE FEDERAL SUIT, CASE NO 1:20-CV-01565.

On February 13, 2020, the Harrison Township Board of Education filed a lawsuit against Callan and Clement alleging that they violated both federal and state law. Specifically, the Board claimed that Callan, after having receiving her notice of non-renewal for the 2018-19 school year, “accessed confidential IEP and related student documents” and other information from the Board’s Google Drive. The Board said that they weren’t aware that Callan was accessing the records and that “on information and belief” she also altered those records.

The Board also accused Clement of improperly accessing confidential documents from the Google Drive after she resigned from employment. The Board claimed that Clement and Callan “in concert with each other . . . attempted to access and did access” the Google Drive and altered records and data from June 2018 through March 2019.

The Board claimed that the teachers’ alleged actions violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and New Jersey’s Computer Related Offenses Act.

The Board of Education was represented in this lawsuit by Brett E.J. Gorman of Parker McCay, PA, Mount Laurel.

THE OPRA LAWSUIT, DOCKET NO. GLO-L-148-21.

On February 11, 2021, Callan filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit against the Harrison Board of Education and its business administrator and records custodian Robert E. Scharlé. The object of the lawsuit was to gain access to fifteen e-mails between the District’s IT manager and a technology consultant regarding an investigation into the Google Drive that Clement and Callan allegedly accessed improperly. The lawsuit claimed that the teachers needed the e-mails because they might show that “the Google Drive Investigation was superfluous and/or merely cumulative” and done “in order to expend amounts that would satisfy the” $5,000 threshold of damages required by the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. 1030(g)).

In a brief that accompanied the OPRA lawsuit, Callan claimed that the school board’s federal lawsuit against her “appears to be a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (‘SLAPP’), a lawsuit calculated to stifle [her] whistleblower lawsuit.”

Callan was represented in the OPRA lawsuit by Raymond Baldino of Newark.

CONCLUSION.

The Global Settlement Agreement that resolved all three lawsuits is on-line here. The lawsuits themselves are available on-line by clicking the titles above. The settlement included a confidentiality clause that prohibited any party to any of the three lawsuits from issuing “a public or private statement or comment about the allegations of the Federal Case, State Case, and OPRA Case or the terms of [the settlement agreement.]” It also provides for the Board to give a neutral reference to any of Callan’s or Clement’s prospective employers.

According to a March 23, 2022 response to my OPRA request, Callan and Clement were making annual salaries of $53,325 and $56,885, respectively, when they separated from employment in 2018.

None of the teachers’ or the school board’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that entering into it does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the parties. All that is known for sure is that the parties, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather release the other parties from all their claims than to proceed to trial.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to paff@pobox.com